Plotinus

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prothero
 
Reply Thu 3 Jun, 2010 10:36 pm
@Twirlip,
[QUOTE=Twirlip;172434]Insofar as I understand it, I'd be inclined to agree with him on that. The asceticism of the Gnostics makes me uncomfortable; on the other hand, I see something real in the idea of the Demiurge as a kind of pseudo-Creator; so I'm looking for some system of ideas which has something like the latter, but nothing too much like the former.[/QUOTE] If one wishes a more modern treatment of a philosophical and religious system compatible with Plotinus, I would suggest the process philosophy of A.N. Whitehead and the process theology of both Whitehead and Hartshorne. My own particular system of thought follows from Plato to Whitehead and from Plotinus to Hartshorne. I still tend to view Plotinus as a more religious and more mystical presentation of Plato.

Below just sort of a summary of my current understanding: with a few more modern process philosophy twists.

Unity is a central concept in Plotinus system of thought (monism) the One. Everything descends or emanates from the one and despite the apparent multiplicity of the lower levels of reality, Plotinus philosophy is essentially an ardent monist. The Intellect the level of reality directly below the One is the realm of the forms,. The forms are essentially the thought of the intellect. Soul is the level of reality below the intellect. The soul is among the most complex of the levels of reality and has multiplicity in the form of individual souls of humans and of other living things, and the world soul. The system of hierarchy in Plotinus is not a spatial temporal hierarchy but one of ontologic priority. The One is at the apex of the hierarchy and matter and the sensible world at the bottom of the hierarchy. In between lay the realms of the intellect and the soul. The intelligible world is a world which is non spatial temporal and in which eternal forms dwell. The sensible world is spatial and temporal and constantly in flux and change an imperfect and shadowy representation of the forms. Matter lies at the bottom of Plotinus hierarchy of levels of being. Matter is lack of being, privation, only potentiality, lacking form, lacking being. Matter is produced by the lower soul or nature (physis). Plotinus does not believe in evil as a force in the world. Rather evil is a form of privation, evil is identified with matter as lacking form and a type of non-being.

Human beings stand on the border between two realms the sensible and the intelligible. Some humans tend towards the realm of the intelligible and some tend to the realm of the sensible. One can intellectually ascend towards the higher levels of reality (i.e., soul, nous, the One) by philosophical reasoning, contemplation or in some cases mystical union. The ascent from the beauty of material or corporeal things to the notion of the Form of the beautiful is one example of the intellectual ascent from the particular to the unified concept a general principle in both the thought of Plotinus and or Plato. The intellectual life is the true life, the good life and the proper goal of human beings. For Plotinus the goal of human life is the liberation of the soul from its attachment to the body and to the realm of sense perception.

Plotinus holds that all souls are really one (sort of a one mind theory) . The individual souls of the creatures and the world souls are all really manifestations of the hypostasis soul. As one descends through the levels of reality from the completely unified One, there is the illusion of separation and of multiplicity but ultimately all is an emanation from the one.

Matter is "that which is not" without form, without being, pure chance, randomness, the absence of order. Order, form and being is brought to matter, from the intelligible realm. Matter the lowest of the levels of being is the negation of Oder and of Intelligibility. Order and form and being are brought into matter through process. Process is the method whereby that which is potential is brought into actuality. The collapse of the quantum probability into a discrete result or measurement is an example of potentiality (the realm of possibilities) collapsing into actuality (realm of sense experience). Actual events are never perfectly or fully determined and ordered. Events are the interaction between the order of the noumenal realm and the randomness of the material realm or the randomness inherent in nature. The universe is the conjunction of order (forms) and of randomness or the freedom (individual actualities or individual creatures) bringing the potential into the actual and producing novelty and creative advance into (forms most beautiful and wondrous).

That which is actual is that which can be experienced? Do the objects of thought, of the mind (noumena) exist? Are the objects of perception (phenomena) more real than the noumena? For Plato and for Plotinus the answer is the noumena are more real, exist in a higher level of reality than the phenomenal. The sensible world (the phenomenological) is a mere projection or reflection of the (noumenal) world. The realm of the intellect and of the forms is a higher ontologic level of being. Reality is unified in the One but in the lower levels of reality the unified principle is lost in a realm of apparent multiplicities and divisions. In the process of science we also believe in underlying principles in reality, we call them universal laws but we consider them to be lifeless. For the Greeks the underlying principles of reality were not lifeless but forms of mental ideals, the intellect and of soul.
 
Mad Mike
 
Reply Fri 4 Jun, 2010 08:26 pm
@prothero,
Quote:

Below just sort of a summary of my current understanding: with a few more modern process philosophy twists.



I can't speak to the "process philosophy," but your summary of the Platonist/Plotinian stuff was very good.

One small quibble: Some of the traditional scholarly commentary on Plotinus assumes more of a hierarchical tendency than is actually there. I think they're anachronistically reading back into Plotinus a way of thinking that comes out of the later Neoplatonic tradition; it was, after all, Pseudo-Dionysius who first used the word "hierarchy." In Plotinus, while there's certainly an ascending scale of value (and being), it's all good.

Quote:

In the process of science we also believe in underlying principles in reality, we call them universal laws but we consider them to be lifeless. For the Greeks the underlying principles of reality were not lifeless but forms of mental ideals, the intellect and of soul.


This is the thing I think is most misunderstood about Platonism: The Ideas/Forms have life; indeed, have more life than the living things in the physical world, which have only a derived life. When I did Plato in my History of Philosophy course in college 30-odd years ago, this sense of life was completely absent. But it was immediately evident when I started reading Plotinus about 10 years ago (he wasn't even mentioned in that college course). I think the traditional scholarly view here is influenced by Aristotle's concept of abstracting from the specific to the general, which would make the Ideas mere categorical labels. In one of the Enneads, Plotinus specifically denies that this is what he's doing, though I can't come up with the citation right now.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Fri 4 Jun, 2010 08:32 pm
@Fairbanks,
There is a spiritual aspect to Plato which was severely attenuated by Aristotle. A Theosophical comment on the relationship:

Quote:
It seems a great historic tragedy that Aristotle, who remained under the influence of Plato for nearly twenty years, failed to continue the line of teaching begun by Pythagoras and clarified by Plato. But Aristotle was not content to be a "transmitter." Plato claimed no originality for his ideas, giving the credit to Socrates and Pythagoras. Aristotle's failure in this direction may be due to the fact that, while both Pythagoras and Plato were Initiates of the Mysteries, Aristotle was never initiated and depended on logical speculation for the development of his theories. This accounts for his many divergences from the teachings of Plato, whose philosophy was based upon the wisdom of the ancient East. According to Diogenes Laertius, Aristotle fell away from his teacher while Plato was still alive, whereat Plato remarked, "Aristotle has kicked me, as foals do their mothers when they are born." While there is evidence that Aristotle never lost his high personal regard for Plato, the fact remains that in his later writings he never mentions Plato except to refute his doctrines, maintaining that the Platonic method is fatal to science.
From Plato and Aristotle
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Fri 4 Jun, 2010 11:03 pm
@Fairbanks,
Perhaps Aristotle missed out on an emotional experience that Plato managed to find. I wonder what Aristotle could have made of the Form of the Good. I use "emotional" as it is a neutral sort of term.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Sun 6 Jun, 2010 01:06 am
@Reconstructo,
Reconstructo;173263 wrote:
Perhaps Aristotle missed out on an emotional experience that Plato managed to find.


The article says it: it wasn't an 'emotional experience' but initiation into esoteric spirituality. Bear in mind, this comes from the Theosophical magazine, and the Theosophical Society is heavily into this kind of thing, so we can take it with a grain of salt. But I am sure there is an element of truth in it, regardless.

There is the idea in the esoteric traditions of 'the wisdom eye', the 'eye of the heart'. For example, in Meister Eckhardt: 'The eye with which I see God, is the same eye with which God sees me'. That could have been directly lifted from Plotinus. But I don't think you will find a similar expression in Aristotle. Which is not to say that Aristotle did not have a spiritual side - I am sure he did, but not of the same depth as Plato.
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Sun 6 Jun, 2010 01:17 am
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;173733 wrote:
The article says it: it wasn't an 'emotional experience' but initiation into esoteric spirituality.


Well, I was playing it safe there. If we push it past emotion, we are getting into ?

Obviously, I'm not denying the possibility of a significant change in world view. Plato certainly was different in his interpretations than Aristotle. But do you not think emotion is the essence? I know "emotion" is a weak term, but it's something that won't alienate the skeptics. And what is emotion is the primary element, and the rest is secondary?Smile

---------- Post added 06-06-2010 at 02:19 AM ----------

jeeprs;173733 wrote:

There is the idea in the esoteric traditions of 'the wisdom eye', the 'eye of the heart'. For example, in Meister Eckhardt: 'The eye with which I see God, is the same eye with which God sees me'. That could have been directly lifted from Plotinus. But I don't think you will find a similar expression in Aristotle. Which is not to say that Aristotle did not have a spiritual side - I am sure he did, but not of the same depth as Plato.


Now I relate to all of this. Eckhardt's line is beautiful. The "eye of the heart" is beautiful. My question is this: is the essence Love? Perhaps concepts, metaphors, myths, techniques, and even drugs can help one get there. But is there made of Love/Beauty/Peace?
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Sun 6 Jun, 2010 01:35 am
@Fairbanks,
Plato spoke of 'noesis' which is obviously similar to 'gnosis', although this doesn't mean he was a Gnostic. Maybe a small 'g' gnostic, as in, not member of one of the dualist Gnostic sects, but nevertheless, one with 'the hidden knowledge'.

I believe the ancient sages really were on a different plane to us normal humans. Of course most times this will be rejected as being religion. People really don't want to know. Plato understood this too, of course. It takes a disciplined kind of asceticism. Not extremely ascetic, like fasting in the wilderness. But it definitely requires a monastic type of concentration and an attainment of a different station of consciousness. That was what Meister Eckhardt spoke of, that is why Buddhists like D.T. Suzuki studied him (in Mysticism East and West.)

As I have said before, this takes disciplined meditation. It is out-of-scope for philosophy, if philosophy is 'talking about talking'. Don't underestimate the challenge - this requires a spiritual discipline, praxis. Then some of these kinds of understanding begin to open up, but it is hard work, and the ego constantly resists it.
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Sun 6 Jun, 2010 01:57 am
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;173744 wrote:
Plato spoke of 'noesis' which is obviously similar to 'gnosis', although this doesn't mean he was a Gnostic. Maybe a small 'g' gnostic, as in, not member of one of the dualist Gnostic sects, but nevertheless, one with 'the hidden knowledge'.

I believe the ancient sages really were on a different plane to us normal humans. Of course most times this will be rejected as being religion. People really don't want to know. Plato understood this too, of course. It takes a disciplined kind of asceticism. Not extremely ascetic, like fasting in the wilderness. But it definitely requires a monastic type of concentration and an attainment of a different station of consciousness. That was what Meister Eckhardt spoke of, that is why Buddhists like D.T. Suzuki studied him (in Mysticism East and West.)

As I have said before, this takes disciplined meditation. It is out-of-scope for philosophy, if philosophy is 'talking about talking'. Don't underestimate the challenge - this requires a spiritual discipline, praxis. Then some of these kinds of understanding begin to open up, but it is hard work, and the ego constantly resists it.


I respect all of this but it demands a leap of faith, does it not? And a lifestyle not available to most, who have bills to pay. Still it may be the case. That may be the best path.

I have personally been swamped by love and beauty at times, and generally walk on air. Still, perhaps greater experiences are possible. I wouldn't shun them. I know that you too have had experiences. For me, your first-person accounts would have a greater persuasiveness than anything second hand. If I were to read more Suzuki, who I have looked at, I still am forced to interpret his words by my own light and experience. Of course it does make sense that monastic concentration, away from all the noise and frantic motion of the world, would help one focus. So I can't deny, really, that I think higher states are out there, except that my two best experiences were so great that it seems like ingratitude to ask for more. One of these happened to a sober me walking through the park, out of nowhere. It was just as Nietzsche described inspiration (an understatement) in E.H.. The other involved mushrooms. Did Plato or Plotinus say anything on this issue? Wasn't something like this known to the Greeks? Robert Graves write of something, but I forget what it is called.Smile

Could the "dark night of the soul" be at least as important? Does Plotinus mention anything like this? The night isn't dark until suicide is a live option. Maybe the dark night of the soul burns up the ego's vanity and more primitive conceptions of God? For me, atheism was a path to a better conception of "God," which is really an anti-conception.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Sun 6 Jun, 2010 03:18 am
@Reconstructo,
Reconstructo;173750 wrote:
I respect all of this but it demands a leap of faith, does it not?


No I don't think it is faith that is being talked about. It is Plato's idea of noesis, or something very similar. We confuse them at our peril. That is one of the confusions of the age - all of this is run together as faith. It is one of the pernicious effects of Protestantism, in my view. I think this at the real heart of Western philosophy.

---------- Post added 06-06-2010 at 07:45 PM ----------

I had many experiences of altered states, in my late teens. It was the 60's, you know. That provided my entry point to consideration of spiritual philosophies. This was not peculiar to me, of course. But it is a hard path. I thought at the time 'all you need is love' and all the rest of the 60's hoo-haa. Now I don't want to declare that the dream is over, or anything like that. But as life goes by, things often don't turn out like you think. 'Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans', as Lennon was to say, post-Beatles. So now I should be contemplating retirement but in all likelihood I am going to be toiling away at an office desk for the next 10 years.

Anyway, enough about me. It provides some context. I tried to 'live the dream' of 'reaching the higher ground'. It can be done, it does work, but it does take application and dedication to make it real, in the long run. And there are really no prizes for it in a worldly kind of way. Just as your Plotinus or Eckhardt or Suzuki would say. This is the real life of contemplation, and it is tough going. (But that is just the ego complaining. That is mostly what ego does - complain and crave.)

Anyway that is an honest account of where I'm at with it. It is a work in progress.
 
Twirlip
 
Reply Sun 6 Jun, 2010 08:17 am
@Reconstructo,
jeeprs;173744 wrote:
I believe the ancient sages really were on a different plane to us normal humans.

Oi, watch who you're calling "normal"! Smile
Reconstructo;173750 wrote:
Could the "dark night of the soul" be at least as important? Does Plotinus mention anything like this? The night isn't dark until suicide is a live option. Maybe the dark night of the soul burns up the ego's vanity and more primitive conceptions of God?

Indeed. It is "normal" to believe that when a person is in an "abnormally" dark place, efforts should be made to make them "normal". But that can be like trying to force an eye shut once it has been opened. It can make more sense to open another eye.

The analogy is far from perfect. There is certainly a loss of vision in the dark place, or else of course it wouldn't be called dark. The "normal" person does not suffer from this loss of vision.

However, I offer this imperfect analogy to counteract the even less perfect idea that darkness is merely an inferior state to the "normal".

A more inclusive account would probably have to say something to the effect that the "normal" state involves certain illusions, and that the loss of these illusions, without any compensating mystical glimpse of higher truths, leads to a loss of even the "normal" mind's ability to glimpse truths in an illusory form.

I know that "normality" is simply not an option for me. It is not an ideal to aim for. Indeed, I have long been curious to know when and how the word "normal" entered the English language as if it could be used to indicate some kind of intellectual and moral ideal.
 
 

 
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