Neoplatonic Philosophy: Introductory Readings

Neoplatonic Philosophy: Introductory Readings

Neoplatonic Philosophy: Introductory Readings

Neoplatonic Philosophy: Introductory Readings

Synopsis

The most comprehensive collection of Neoplatonic writings available in English, this volume provides translations of the central texts of four major figures of the Neoplatonic tradition: Plotinus, Porphyry, Iamblichus, and Proclus. The general Introduction gives an overview of the period and takes a brief but revealing look at the history of ancient philosophy from the viewpoint of the Neoplatonists. Historical background -- essential for understanding these powerful, difficult, and sometimes obscure thinkers -- is provided in extensive footnotes, which also include cross-references to other works relevant to particular passages.

Excerpt

Neoplatonic Philosophy: Introductory Readings aims to provide a starting point for the serious study of a relatively neglected period in the history of philosophy. It was originally loosely conceived to be a sort of companion to R. T. Wallis' monograph Neoplatonism (1972, 2nd edition with updated bibliography, Hackett, 1992) It picks up roughly where Hellenistic Philosophy: Introductory Readings by B. Inwood and L. P. Gerson (1988, 2nd edition, Hackett, 1997) leaves off. The present work contains many, though by no means all, of the texts referred to by Wallis. For anyone unfamiliar or only vaguely familiar with Neoplatonism, the use of the two books together should provide a basic orientation.

In selecting material for inclusion in this book, we were guided by a number of principles in addition to the one mentioned above. The foremost among these was the decision to include mainly philosophical material, broadly speaking. We are aware that, regrettably, this will leave the reader with a somewhat incomplete picture of the last great flowering of Hellenic culture. We have also refrained from including translations of any of the 15,000 or so extant pages of Neoplatonic Aristotelian commentary in recognition of the soon-to-appear three volume collection including selections of that material, edited by Richard Sorabji. Finally, in our selection we strove to include the material that would enable the reader to begin to form a judgment about the philosophical distinctness of each of the four major figures. In order to achieve this goal, we chose to include complete or, at any rate, lengthy, continuous texts, rather than to chop up material thematically. Although there is considerable justification for treating Neoplatonism as a unified philosophy, nevertheless disagreement among Neoplatonists was far from uncommon, and shifting perspectives, sometimes the result of literally centuries of debate, produced in fact many unique philosophical positions.

The study of Neoplatonism throws up a number of challenges. For one, the Neoplatonists were expositors, interpreters, and champions of a tradition going back to Plato himself and the Academy. Accordingly, one must be constantly aware of the relevant historical background of the Neoplatonic writings. We have tried to indicate this extensively in the footnotes. The reader should also be aware that, as evidenced by the enormous number of their Aristotelian commentaries, Neoplatonists were engaged in constant dialogue with Plato's greatest pupil.

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