Plotinus

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Plotinus
Plotinos.jpg
Bornc.204/5
Died270 (aged 6465)
Campania, Roman Empire
Era Ancient philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Neoplatonism
Main interests
Platonism, metaphysics, mysticism
Notable ideas
Emanation of all things from the One
Three main hypostases: the One, Intellect, and Soul
Henosis

Plotinus ( /plɒˈtnəs/ ; Greek : Πλωτῖνος, Plōtinos; c.204/5 – 270) 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. [1] His teacher was Ammonius Saccas, who was of the Platonic tradition. [2] Historians of the 19th century invented the term Neoplatonism [2] 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, including developing precepts that influence mainstream theological concepts within religions, such as his work on duality of the One in two metaphysical states that laid the foundation for Christian notions of Jesus being both god and man, a foundational idea in Christian theology.

Greek language Language spoken in Greece, Cyprus and Southern Albania

Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning more than 3000 years of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the major part of its history; other systems, such as Linear B and the Cypriot syllabary, were used previously. The alphabet arose from the Phoenician script and was in turn the basis of the Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian, Coptic, Gothic, and many other writing systems.

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?

Henology refers to the philosophical account or discourse on The One that appears most notably in the philosophy of Plotinus. Reiner Schürmann describes it as a "metaphysics of radical transcendence" that extends beyond being and intellection.

Contents

Biography

Porphyry reported that Plotinus was 66 years old when he died in 270, the second year of the reign of the emperor Claudius II, thus giving us the year of his teacher's birth as around 205. Eunapius reported that Plotinus was born in the Deltaic Lycopolis in Egypt, which has led to speculations that he may have been a native Egyptian of Roman, [3] Greek, [4] or Hellenized Egyptian [5] descent.

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.

Eunapius ancient greek sophist and historian

Eunapius was a Greek sophist and historian of the 4th century AD. His principal surviving work is the Lives of Philosophers and Sophists, a collection of the biographies of 23 philosophers and sophists.

Lycopolis (Delta) Place in Egypt

Lycopolis or Lykopolis, or the Deltaic Lycopolis was an ancient town in the Sebennytic nome in Lower Egypt, in the neighbourhood of Mendes, and, from its appellation, apparently founded by a colony of Osirian priests from the town of Lycopolis in Upper Egypt. The Deltaic Lycopolis was the birthplace of the Neo-Platonic philosopher Plotinus in 204.

Plotinus had an inherent distrust of materiality (an attitude common to Platonism), holding to the view that phenomena were a poor image or mimicry (mimesis) of something "higher and intelligible" (VI.I) which was the "truer part of genuine Being". This distrust extended to the body, including his own; it is reported by Porphyry that at one point he refused to have his portrait painted, presumably for much the same reasons of dislike. Likewise Plotinus never discussed his ancestry, childhood, or his place or date of birth [6] . From all accounts his personal and social life exhibited the highest moral and spiritual standards.

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.

Mimesis is a term used in literary criticism and philosophy that carries a wide range of meanings which include imitatio, imitation, nonsensuous similarity, receptivity, representation, mimicry, the act of expression, the act of resembling, and the presentation of the self.

Plotinus took up the study of philosophy at the age of twenty-seven, around the year 232, and travelled to Alexandria to study. There he was dissatisfied with every teacher he encountered until an acquaintance suggested he listen to the ideas of Ammonius Saccas. Upon hearing Ammonius lecture, he declared to his friend, "this was the man I was looking for," and began to study intently under his new instructor. Besides Ammonius, Plotinus was also influenced by the works of Alexander of Aphrodisias, Numenius, and various Stoics.

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.

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.

Alexander of Aphrodisias Peripatetic philosopher

Alexander of Aphrodisias was a Peripatetic philosopher and the most celebrated of the Ancient Greek commentators on the writings of Aristotle. He was a native of Aphrodisias in Caria, and lived and taught in Athens at the beginning of the 3rd century, where he held a position as head of the Peripatetic school. He wrote many commentaries on the works of Aristotle, extant are those on the Prior Analytics, Topics, Meteorology, Sense and Sensibilia, and Metaphysics. Several original treatises also survive, and include a work On Fate, in which he argues against the Stoic doctrine of necessity; and one On the Soul. His commentaries on Aristotle were considered so useful that he was styled, by way of pre-eminence, "the commentator".

Expedition to Persia and return to Rome

After spending the next eleven years in Alexandria, he then decided, at the age of around 38, to investigate the philosophical teachings of the Persian philosophers and the Indian philosophers. [7] In the pursuit of this endeavor he left Alexandria and joined the army of Gordian III as it marched on Persia. However, the campaign was a failure, and on Gordian's eventual death Plotinus found himself abandoned in a hostile land, and only with difficulty found his way back to safety in Antioch.

Iranian philosophy or Persian philosophy can be traced back as far as to Old Iranian philosophical traditions and thoughts which originated in ancient Indo-Iranian roots and were considerably influenced by Zarathustra's teachings. According to the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, the chronology of the subject and science of philosophy starts with the Indo-Iranians, dating this event to 1500 BC. The Oxford dictionary also states, "Zarathustra's philosophy entered to influence Western tradition through Judaism, and therefore on Middle Platonism."

Indian philosophy systems of thought from the ancient and medieval era Indian subcontinent

Indian philosophy refers to ancient philosophical traditions of the Indian subcontinent. The principal schools are classified as either orthodox or heterodox – āstika or nāstika – depending on one of three alternate criteria: whether it believes the Vedas as a valid source of knowledge; whether the school believes in the premises of Brahman and Atman; and whether the school believes in afterlife and Devas.

Gordian III Roman emperor

Gordian III was Roman Emperor from 238 AD to 244 AD. At the age of 13, he became the youngest sole legal Roman emperor throughout the existence of the united Roman Empire. Gordian was the son of Antonia Gordiana and an unnamed Roman Senator who died before 238. Antonia Gordiana was the daughter of Emperor Gordian I and younger sister of Emperor Gordian II. Very little is known of his early life before his acclamation. Gordian had assumed the name of his maternal grandfather in 238 AD.

At the age of forty, during the reign of Philip the Arab, he came to Rome, where he stayed for most of the remainder of his life. [6] There he attracted a number of students. His innermost circle included Porphyry, Amelius Gentilianus of Tuscany, the Senator Castricius Firmus, and Eustochius of Alexandria, a doctor who devoted himself to learning from Plotinus and attending to him until his death. Other students included: Zethos, an Arab by ancestry who died before Plotinus, leaving him a legacy and some land; Zoticus, a critic and poet; Paulinus, a doctor of Scythopolis; and Serapion from Alexandria. He had students amongst the Roman Senate beside Castricius, such as Marcellus Orontius, Sabinillus, and Rogantianus. Women were also numbered amongst his students, including Gemina, in whose house he lived during his residence in Rome, and her daughter, also Gemina; and Amphiclea, the wife of Ariston the son of Iamblichus. [8] Finally, Plotinus was a correspondent of the philosopher Cassius Longinus.

Philip the Arab Roman Emperor

Marcus Julius Philippus, also known commonly by his nickname Philip the Arab, was Roman Emperor from February 244 to September 249. He was born in Arabia Petraea, the Roman province of Arabia, in a city situated in modern-day Syria. He went on to become a major figure in the Roman Empire. After the death of Gordian III in February 244, Philip, who had been Praetorian prefect, achieved power. He quickly negotiated peace with the Persian Sassanid Empire. During his reign, the city of Rome celebrated its millennium.

Rome Capital city and comune in Italy

Rome is the capital city and a special comune of Italy. Rome also serves as the capital of the Lazio region. With 2,872,800 residents in 1,285 km2 (496.1 sq mi), it is also the country's most populated comune. It is the fourth most populous city in the European Union by population within city limits. It is the centre of the Metropolitan City of Rome, which has a population of 4,355,725 residents, thus making it the most populous metropolitan city in Italy. Rome is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, within Lazio (Latium), along the shores of the Tiber. The Vatican City is an independent country inside the city boundaries of Rome, the only existing example of a country within a city: for this reason Rome has been often defined as capital of two states.

Amelius, whose family name was Gentilianus, was a Neoplatonist philosopher and writer of the second half of the 3rd century.

Later life

While in Rome Plotinus also gained the respect of the Emperor Gallienus and his wife Salonina. At one point Plotinus attempted to interest Gallienus in rebuilding an abandoned settlement in Campania, known as the 'City of Philosophers', where the inhabitants would live under the constitution set out in Plato's Laws. An Imperial subsidy was never granted, for reasons unknown to Porphyry, who reports the incident.

Porphyry subsequently went to live in Sicily, where word reached him that his former teacher had died. The philosopher spent his final days in seclusion on an estate in Campania which his friend Zethos had bequeathed him. According to the account of Eustochius, who attended him at the end, Plotinus' final words were: "Try to raise the divine in yourselves to the divine in the all." [9] Eustochius records that a snake crept under the bed where Plotinus lay, and slipped away through a hole in the wall; at the same moment the philosopher died.

Plotinus wrote the essays that became the Enneads over a period of several years from ca. 253 until a few months before his death seventeen years later. Porphyry makes note that the Enneads, before being compiled and arranged by himself, were merely the enormous collection of notes and essays which Plotinus used in his lectures and debates, rather than a formal book. Plotinus was unable to revise his own work due to his poor eyesight, yet his writings required extensive editing, according to Porphyry: his master's handwriting was atrocious, he did not properly separate his words, and he cared little for niceties of spelling. Plotinus intensely disliked the editorial process, and turned the task to Porphyry, who not only polished them but put them into the arrangement we now have.

Major ideas

One

Plotinus taught that there is a supreme, totally transcendent "One", containing no division, multiplicity, or distinction; beyond all categories of being and non-being. His "One" "cannot be any existing thing", nor is it merely the sum of all things (compare the Stoic doctrine of disbelief in non-material existence), but "is prior to all existents". Plotinus identified his "One" with the concept of 'Good' and the principle of 'Beauty'. (I.6.9)

His "One" concept encompassed thinker and object. Even the self-contemplating intelligence (the noesis of the nous) must contain duality. "Once you have uttered 'The Good,' add no further thought: by any addition, and in proportion to that addition, you introduce a deficiency." (III.8.11) Plotinus denies sentience, self-awareness or any other action (ergon) to the One (τὸ Ἕν, to En; V.6.6). Rather, if we insist on describing it further, we must call the One a sheer potentiality ( dynamis ) or without which nothing could exist. (III.8.10) As Plotinus explains in both places and elsewhere (e.g. V.6.3), it is impossible for the One to be Being or a self-aware Creator God. At (V.6.4), Plotinus compared the One to "light", the Divine Intellect/Nous (Νοῦς, Nous; first will towards Good) to the "Sun", and lastly the Soul (Ψυχή, Psyche ) to the "Moon" whose light is merely a "derivative conglomeration of light from the 'Sun'". The first light could exist without any celestial body.

The One, being beyond all attributes including being and non-being, is the source of the world—but not through any act of creation, willful or otherwise, since activity cannot be ascribed to the unchangeable, immutable One. Plotinus argues instead that the multiple cannot exist without the simple. The "less perfect" must, of necessity, "emanate", or issue forth, from the "perfect" or "more perfect". Thus, all of "creation" emanates from the One in succeeding stages of lesser and lesser perfection. These stages are not temporally isolated, but occur throughout time as a constant process.

The One is not just an intellectual concept but something that can be experienced, an experience where one goes beyond all multiplicity. [10] Plotinus writes, "We ought not even to say that he will see, but he will be that which he sees, if indeed it is possible any longer to distinguish between seer and seen, and not boldly to affirm that the two are one." [11]

Emanation by the One

Superficially considered, Plotinus seems to offer an alternative to the orthodox Christian notion of creation ex nihilo (out of nothing), although Plotinus never mentions Christianity in any of his works. The metaphysics of emanation (ἀπορροή aporrhoe (ΙΙ.3.2) or ἀπόρροια aporrhoia (II.3.11)), however, just like the metaphysics of Creation, confirms the absolute transcendence of the One or of the Divine, as the source of the Being of all things that yet remains transcendent of them in its own nature; the One is in no way affected or diminished by these emanations, just as the Christian God in no way is affected by some sort of exterior "nothingness". Plotinus, using a venerable analogy that would become crucial for the (largely Neoplatonic) metaphysics of developed Christian thought, likens the One to the Sun which emanates light indiscriminately without thereby diminishing itself, or reflection in a mirror which in no way diminishes or otherwise alters the object being reflected.[ citation needed ]

The first emanation is Nous (Divine Mind, Logos , Order, Thought, Reason), identified metaphorically with the Demiurge in Plato's Timaeus . It is the first Will toward Good. From Nous proceeds the World Soul, which Plotinus subdivides into upper and lower, identifying the lower aspect of Soul with nature. From the world soul proceeds individual human souls, and finally, matter, at the lowest level of being and thus the least perfected level of the cosmos. Despite this relatively pedestrian assessment of the material world, Plotinus asserted the ultimately divine nature of material creation since it ultimately derives from the One, through the mediums of Nous and the world soul. It is by the Good or through beauty that we recognize the One, in material things and then in the Forms. (I.6.6 and I.6.9)

The essentially devotional nature of Plotinus' philosophy may be further illustrated by his concept of attaining ecstatic union with the One ( henosis ). Porphyry relates that Plotinus attained such a union four times during the years he knew him. This may be related to enlightenment, liberation, and other concepts of mystical union common to many Eastern and Western traditions.[ citation needed ]

The true human and happiness

The philosophy of Plotinus has always exerted a peculiar fascination upon those whose discontent with things as they are has led them to seek the realities behind what they took to be merely the appearances of the sense.

The philosophy of Plotinus: representative books from the Enneads, p. vii [12]

Authentic human happiness for Plotinus consists of the true human identifying with that which is the best in the universe. Because happiness is beyond anything physical, Plotinus stresses the point that worldly fortune does not control true human happiness, and thus “… there exists no single human being that does not either potentially or effectively possess this thing we hold to constitute happiness.” (Enneads I.4.4) The issue of happiness is one of Plotinus’ greatest imprints on Western thought, as he is one of the first to introduce the idea that eudaimonia (happiness) is attainable only within consciousness.

The true human is an incorporeal contemplative capacity of the soul, and superior to all things corporeal. It then follows that real human happiness is independent of the physical world. Real happiness is, instead, dependent on the metaphysical and authentic human being found in this highest capacity of Reason. “For man, and especially the Proficient, is not the Couplement of Soul and body: the proof is that man can be disengaged from the body and disdain its nominal goods.” (Enneads I.4.14) The human who has achieved happiness will not be bothered by sickness, discomfort, etc., as his focus is on the greatest things. Authentic human happiness is the utilization of the most authentically human capacity of contemplation. Even in daily, physical action, the flourishing human’s “…Act is determined by the higher phase of the Soul.” (Enneads III.4.6) Even in the most dramatic arguments Plotinus considers (if the Proficient is subject to extreme physical torture, for example), he concludes this only strengthens his claim of true happiness being metaphysical, as the truly happy human being would understand that which is being tortured is merely a body, not the conscious self, and happiness could persist.

Plotinus offers a comprehensive description of his conception of a person who has achieved eudaimonia. “The perfect life” involves a man who commands reason and contemplation. (Enneads I.4.4) A happy person will not sway between happy and sad, as many of Plotinus' contemporaries believed. Stoics, for example, question the ability of someone to be happy (presupposing happiness is contemplation) if they are mentally incapacitated or even asleep. Plotinus disregards this claim, as the soul and true human do not sleep or even exist in time, nor will a living human who has achieved eudaimonia suddenly stop using its greatest, most authentic capacity just because of the body’s discomfort in the physical realm. “…The Proficient’s will is set always and only inward.” (Enneads I.4.11)

Overall, happiness for Plotinus is "...a flight from this world's ways and things." (Theaet. 176) and a focus on the highest, i.e. Forms and the One.

Henosis

Henosis is the word for mystical "oneness", "union", or "unity" in classical Greek. In Platonism, and especially Neoplatonism, the goal of henosis is union with what is fundamental in reality: the One (Τὸ Ἕν), the Source, or Monad. [13]

As is specified in the writings of Plotinus on henology, [note 1] one can reach a state of tabula rasa, a blank state where the individual may grasp or merge with The One. [note 2] This absolute simplicity means that the nous or the person is then dissolved, completely absorbed back into the Monad. Here within the Enneads of Plotinus the Monad can be referred to as the Good above the demiurge. [14] [15] The Monad or dunamis (force) is of one singular expression (the will or the one is the good) all is contained in the Monad and the Monad is all (pantheism). All division is reconciled in the one, the final stage before reaching singularity, called duality (dyad), is completely reconciled in the Monad, Source or One (see monism). As the one, source or substance of all things the Monad is all encompassing. As infinite and indeterminate all is reconciled in the dunamis or one. It is the demiurge or second emanation that is the nous in Plotinus. It is the demiurge (creator, action, energy) or nous that "perceives" and therefore causes the force (potential or One) to manifest as energy, or the dyad called the material world. Nous as being, being and perception (intellect) manifest what is called soul (World Soul). [14]

Henosis for Plotinus was defined in his works as a reversing of the ontological process of consciousness via meditation (in the Western mind to uncontemplate) toward no thought (Nous or demiurge) and no division (dyad) within the individual (being). Plotinus words his teachings to reconcile not only Plato with Aristotle but also various World religions that he had personal contact with during his various travels. Plotinus' works have an ascetic character in that they reject matter as an illusion (non-existent). Matter was strictly treated as immanent, with matter as essential to its being, having no true or transcendential character or essence, substance or ousia. This approach is called philosophical Idealism. [16]

Relation with contemporary philosophy and religion

Plotinus's Relation to Plato

For several centuries after the Protestant Reformation, Neo-Platonism was condemned as a decadent and 'oriental' distortion of Platonism. In a famous 1929 essay, E. R. Dodds showed that key conceptions of Neo-Platonism could be traced from their origin in Plato's dialogues, through his immediate followers (e.g., Speusippus) and the Neo-Pythagoreans, to Plotinus and the Neo-Platonists. Thus Plotinus' philosophy was, he argued, 'not the starting-point of Neo-Platonism but its intellectual culmination.' [17] Further research reinforced this view and by 1954 Merlan could say 'The present tendency is toward bridging rather than widening the gap separating Platonism from Neo-Platonism.' [18]

Since the 1950s, the Tübingen School of Plato interpretation has argued that the so-called 'unwritten doctrines' of Plato debated by Aristotle and the Early Academy strongly resemble Plotinus's metaphysics. In this case, the Neo-Platonic reading of Plato would be, at least in this central area, historically justified. This implies that Neo-Platonism is less of an innovation than it appears without the recognition of Plato's unwritten doctrines. Advocates of the Tübingen School emphasize this advantage of their interpretation. They see Plotinus as advancing a tradition of thought begun by Plato himself. Plotinus's metaphysics, at least in broad outline, was therefore already familiar to the first generation of Plato's students. This confirms Plotinus' own view, for he considered himself not the inventor of a system but the faithful interpreter of Plato's doctrines. [19]

Plotinus and the Gnostics

At least two modern conferences within Hellenic philosophy fields of study have been held in order to address what Plotinus stated in his tract Against the Gnostics and to whom he was addressing it, in order to separate and clarify the events and persons involved in the origin of the term "Gnostic". From the dialogue, it appears that the word had an origin in the Platonic and Hellenistic tradition long before the group calling themselves "Gnostics"—or the group covered under the modern term "Gnosticism"—ever appeared. It would seem that this shift from Platonic to Gnostic usage has led many people to confusion. The strategy of sectarians taking Greek terms from philosophical contexts and re-applying them to religious contexts was popular in Christianity, the Cult of Isis and other ancient religious contexts including Hermetic ones (see Alexander of Abonutichus for an example).

Plotinus and the Neoplatonists viewed Gnosticism as a form of heresy or sectarianism to the Pythagorean and Platonic philosophy of the Mediterranean and Middle East. [note 3] He accused them of using senseless jargon and being overly dramatic and insolent in their distortion of Plato's ontology." [note 4] Plotinus attacks his opponents as untraditional, irrational and immoral [note 5] [note 6] and arrogant. [note 7] He also attacks them as elitist and blasphemous to Plato for the Gnostics despising the material world and its maker. [note 8]

The Neoplatonic movement (though Plotinus would have simply referred to himself as a philosopher of Plato) seems to be motivated by the desire of Plotinus to revive the pagan philosophical tradition. [note 9] Plotinus was not claiming to innovate with the Enneads, but to clarify aspects of the works of Plato that he considered misrepresented or misunderstood. [2] Plotinus does not claim to be an innovator, but rather a communicator of a tradition. [21] Plotinus referred to tradition as a way to interpret Plato's intentions. Because the teachings of Plato were for members of the academy rather than the general public, it was easy for outsiders to misunderstand Plato's meaning. However, Plotinus attempted to clarify how the philosophers of the academy had not arrived at the same conclusions (such as misotheism or dystheism of the creator God as an answer to the problem of evil) as the targets of his criticism.

Against causal astrology

Plotinus seems to be one of the first to argue against the still popular notion of causal astrology. In the late tractate 2.3, "Are the stars causes?", Plotinus makes the argument that specific stars influencing one's fortune (a common Hellenistic theme) attributes irrationality to a perfect universe, and invites moral depravity. He does, however, claim the stars and planets are ensouled, as witnessed by their movement.

Influence

Ancient world

The emperor Julian the Apostate was deeply influenced by Neoplatonism, [22] as was Hypatia of Alexandria. [23] Neoplatonism influenced many Christians as well, including Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. [24] [25] St. Augustine, though often referred to as a "Platonist," acquired his Platonist philosophy through the mediation of the Neoplatonist teachings of Plotinus. [26] [27]

Christianity

Plotinus' philosophy had an influence on the development of Christian theology. In A History of Western Philosophy, philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote that:

To the Christian, the Other World was the Kingdom of Heaven, to be enjoyed after death; to the Platonist, it was the eternal world of ideas, the real world as opposed to that of illusory appearance. Christian theologians combined these points of view, and embodied much of the philosophy of Plotinus. [...] Plotinus, accordingly, is historically important as an influence in moulding the Christianity of the Middle Ages and of theology. [28]

The Eastern Orthodox position on energy, for example, is often contrasted with the position of the Roman Catholic Church, and in part this is attributed to varying interpretations of Aristotle and Plotinus, either through Thomas Aquinas for the Roman Catholics or Gregory Palamas for the Orthodox Christians.[ citation needed ]

Islam

Neoplatonism and the ideas of Plotinus influenced medieval Islam as well, since the Sunni Abbasids fused Greek concepts into sponsored state texts, and found great influence amongst the Ismaili Shia. [29] Persian philosophers as well, such as Muhammad al-Nasafi and Abu Yaqub Sijistani. By the 11th century, Neoplatonism was adopted by the Fatimid state of Egypt, and taught by their da'i. [29] Neoplatonism was brought to the Fatimid court by Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani, although his teachings differed from Nasafi and Sijistani, who were more aligned with original teachings of Plotinus. [30] The teachings of Kirmani in turn influenced philosophers such as Nasir Khusraw of Persia. [30]

Judaism

As with Islam and Christianity, Neoplatonism in general and Plotinus in particular influenced speculative thought. Notable thinkers expressing Neoplatonist themes are Solomon ibn Gabirol (Latin: Avicebron) and Moses ben Maimon (Latin: Maimonides). As with Islam and Christianity, apophatic theology and the privative nature of evil are two prominent themes that such thinkers picked up from either Plotinus or his successors.

Renaissance

In the Renaissance the philosopher Marsilio Ficino set up an Academy under the patronage of Cosimo de Medici in Florence, mirroring that of Plato. His work was of great importance in reconciling the philosophy of Plato directly with Christianity. One of his most distinguished pupils was Pico della Mirandola, author of An Oration On the Dignity of Man.

England

In England, Plotinus was the cardinal influence on the 17th-century school of the Cambridge Platonists, and on numerous writers from Samuel Taylor Coleridge to W. B. Yeats and Kathleen Raine.[ citation needed ]

India

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Ananda Coomaraswamy used the writing of Plotinus in their own texts as a superlative elaboration upon Indian monism, specifically Upanishadic and Advaita Vedantic thought.[ citation needed ] Coomaraswamy has compared Plotinus' teachings to the Hindu school of Advaita Vedanta (advaita meaning "not two" or "non-dual"). [31]

Advaita Vedanta and Neoplatonism have been compared by J. F. Staal, [32] Frederick Copleston, [33] Aldo Magris and Mario Piantelli, [34] Radhakrishnan, [35] Gwen Griffith-Dickson, [36] and John Y. Fenton. [37]

The joint influence of Advaitin and Neoplatonic ideas on Ralph Waldo Emerson was considered by Dale Riepe in 1967. [38]

See also

Notes

  1. Plotinus:
    * "Our thought cannot grasp the One as long as any other image remains active in the soul. To this end, you must set free your soul from all outward things and turn wholly within yourself, with no more leaning to what lies outside, and lay your mind bare of ideal forms, as before of the objects of sense, and forget even yourself, and so come within sight of that One." (6.9.7)
    * "If he remembers who he became when he merged with the One, he will bear its image in himself. He was himself one, with no diversity in himself or his outward relations; for no movement was in him, no passion, no desire for another, once the ascent was accomplished. Nor indeed was there any reason or though, nor, if we dare say it, any trace of himself." (6.9.11.)
  2. Plotinus:
    * "Our thought cannot grasp the One as long as any other image remains active in the soul. To this end, you must set free your soul from all outward things and turn wholly within yourself, with no more leaning to what lies outside, and lay your mind bare of ideal forms, as before of the objects of sense, and forget even yourself, and so come within sight of that One. (6.9.7)
    * "If he remembers who he became when he merged with the One, he will bear its image in himself. He was himself one, with no diversity in himself or his outward relations; for no movement was in him, no passion, no desire for another, once the ascent was accomplished. Nor indeed was there any reason or though, nor, if we dare say it, any trace of himself." (6.9.11)
  3. From Introduction to Against the Gnostics Plotinus' Enneads as translated by A. H. Armstrong, pp. 220–222:
    The treatise as it stands in the Enneads is a most powerful protest on behalf of Hellenic philosophy against the un-Hellenic heresy (as it was from the Platonist as well as the orthodox Christian point of view) of Gnosticism. There were Gnostics among Plotinus's own friends, whom he had not succeeded in converting (Enneads ch.10 of this treatise) and he and his pupils devoted considerable time and energy to anti-Gnostic controversy (Life of Plotinus ch.16). He obviously considered Gnosticism an extremely dangerous influence, likely to pervert the minds even of members of his own circle. It is impossible to attempt to give an account of Gnosticism here. By far the best discussion of what the particular group of Gnostics Plotinus knew believed is M. Puech's admirable contribution to Entretiens Hardt V (Les Sourcesde Plotin). But it is important for the understanding of this treatise to be clear about the reasons why Plotinus disliked them so intensely and thought their influence so harmful.
  4. From Introduction to Against the Gnostics Plotinus' Enneads as translated by A. H. Armstrong, pp. 220–222:
    Short statement of the doctrine of the three hypostasis, the One, Intellect and Soul; there cannot be more or fewer than these three.
    1. Criticism of the attempts to multiply the hypostasis, and especially of the idea of two intellects, one which thinks and that other which thinks that it thinks. (Enneads Against the Gnostics ch. 1). The true doctrine of Soul (ch. 2).
    2. - The law of necessary procession and the eternity of the universe (ch. 3).
    - Attack on the Gnostic doctrine of the making of the universe by a fallen soul, and on their despising of the universe and the heavenly bodies (chs. 4–5).
    - The sense-less jargon of the Gnostics, their plagiarism from and perversion of Plato, and their insolent arrogance (ch. 6).
    3. The true doctrine about Universal Soul and the goodness of the universe which it forms and rules (chs. 7–8).
    4. Refutation of objections from the inequalities and injustices of human life (ch. 9).
    5. Ridiculous arrogance of the Gnostics who refuse to acknowledge the hierarchy of created gods and spirits and say that they alone are sons of God and superior to the heavens (ch. 9).
    6. The absurdities of the Gnostic doctrine of the fall of "Wisdom" (Sophia) and of the generation and activities of the Demiurge, maker of the visible universe (chs. 10–12).
    7. False and melodramatic Gnostic teaching about the cosmic spheres and their influence (ch. 13).
    8. The blasphemous falsity of the Gnostic claim to control the higher powers by magic and the absurdity of their claim to cure diseases by casting out demons (ch. 14).
    9. The false other-worldliness of the Gnostics leads to immorality (ch. 15).
    10. The true Platonic other-worldliness, which love and venerates the material universe in all its goodness and beauty as the most perfect possible image of the intelligible, contracted at length with the false, Gnostic, other-worldliness which hates and despises the material universe and its beauties (chs. 16–18).
    A. H. Lawrence, Introduction to Against the Gnostics Plotinus' Enneads, pages 220–222
  5. From Introduction to Against the Gnostics Plotinus' Enneads as translated by A. H. Armstrong, pp. 220–222:
    The teaching of the Gnostics seems to him untraditional, irrational and immoral. They despise and revile the ancient Platonic teaching and claim to have a new and superior wisdom of their own: but in fact anything that is true in their teaching comes from Plato, and all they have done themselves is to add senseless complications and pervert the true traditional doctrine into a melodramatic, superstitious fantasy designed to feed their own delusions of grandeur. They reject the only true way of salvation through wisdom and virtue, the slow patient study of truth and pursuit of perfection by men who respect the wisdom of the ancients and the know their place in the universe. Pages 220–222
  6. Introduction to Against the Gnostics Plotinus' Enneads as translated by A. H. Armstrong, pp. 220–222:
    9. The false other-worldliness of the Gnostics leads to immorality (Enneads ch. 15).
  7. Introduction to Against the Gnostics Plotinus' Enneads as translated by A. H. Armstrong, pp. 220–222:
    Ridiculous arrogance of the Gnostics who refuse to acknowledge the hierarchy of created gods and spirits and say that they alone are sons of God and superior to the heavens (Enneads ch. 9)
  8. They claim to be a privileged caste of beings, in whom alone God is interested, and who are saved not by their own efforts but by some dramatic and arbitrary divine proceeding; and this, Plotinus says, leads to immorality. Worst of all, they despise and hate the material universe and deny its goodness and the goodness of its maker. This for a Platonist is utter blasphemy, and all the worse because it obviously derives to some extent from the sharply other-worldly side of Plato's own teaching (e.g. in the Phaedo ). At this point in his attack Plotinus comes very close in some ways to the orthodox Christian opponents of Gnosticism, who also insist that this world is the good work of God in his goodness. But, here as on the question of salvation, the doctrine which Plotinus is defending is as sharply opposed on other ways to orthodox Christianity as to Gnosticism: for he maintains not only the goodness of the material universe but also its eternity and its divinity. The idea that the universe could have a beginning and end is inseparably connected in his mind with the idea that the divine action in making it is arbitrary and irrational. And to deny the divinity (though a subordinate and dependent divinity) of the World-Soul, and of those noblest of embodied living beings the heavenly bodies, seems to him both blasphemous and unreasonable. Pages 220–222
  9. "... as Plotinus had endeavored to revive the religious spirit of paganism". [20]

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References

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  16. 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)." ( Parerga and Paralipomena , Volume I, "Fragments for the History of Philosophy," § 7)
  17. E. R. Dodds, 'The Parmenides of Plato and the Origin of the Neoplatonic One,' The Classical Quarterly, v. 22, No. 3/4, 1928, pp. 129-142, esp. 140.
  18. Philip Merlan, From Platonism to Neoplatonism (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1954, 1968), p. 3.
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Bibliography

Critical editions of the Greek text
Complete English translation
Lexica
The Life of Plotinus by Porphyry
Anthologies of texts in translation, with annotations
Introductory works
Major commentaries in English
General works on Neoplatonism
Studies on some aspects of Plotinus' work
Text of the Enneads
Online English translations
Encyclopedias
Bibliographies