Plotinus on Selfhood, Freedom and Politics

Plotinus on Selfhood, Freedom and Politics

Plotinus on Selfhood, Freedom and Politics

Plotinus on Selfhood, Freedom and Politics


As the most important philosophical work to emerge in the 700-year period between Aristotle and Augustine, The Enneads has been subject to intense scrutiny for more than 2000 years. But the mystical and abstract nature of these treatises by Plotinus continues to resist easy elucidation. In this volume, the latest in the Aarhus Studies on Mediterranean Antiquity, Asger Ousager grapples with the great neo-Platonist's conception of the individual. Is the individual free or determined? Is the Plotinian God subject to any compulsion Himself, and with what consequences for our inner and outer freedom? And finally, what are the political and ethical implications of Plotinism? Since Plotinus has traditionally been regarded as apolitical, it is the evidence that Ousager marshals for his political philosophy that forms the most intriguing part of this study. According to the author, what distinguishes Plotinus from Plato and Aristotle politically is his emphasis on natural authority, mutual cooperation and the immense potential of all people, even slaves.


Plotinus refers (e.g., I.2.1.3-4 & 21-26, I.2.3.5-6 & 20-21, I.2.7.23-30, I.4.16.12, iv.7.10.32-40, I.6.6.20, cf. I.2.2.1-10) to the Theaetetus (176b, cf. Republic 613a, Laws 716c-d) and its recommendation for “becoming like God as far as possible (homoiôsis theôi kata to dûnaton)”. the question is, in how far does Plotinus consider that possible, when the supreme God according to him is the One? On this issue Porphyry states (vp 23.14-18, cf. 22.34):

To Plotinus “the goal ever near was shown”: for his end and goal was to be
united to, to approach the God who is over all things. Four times while I was
with him he attained that goal, in an unspeakable actuality and not in poten
tiality only.

Judging from the context, there is no doubt that the God referred to here is the One.

On the other hand, many passages in Plotinus on unification with the One present the unification in terms of vision, as in the vision of the Beautiful or the single Form of the Beautiful in the Symposium (211e-212a). They suggest a theistic interpretation, according to which a difference between the particular soul and the One would be fully preserved.

For instance, in chapters V.5.7-8, there is a difficult passage on the appearance of the One, where Plotinus shows his understanding of Plato's simile of the sun in the Republic (507d-508b) by referring to how the physical eye has its own power of light (cf. Timaeus 45b-e) in contrast to “the alien light (phôs […] to allotrion)” stemming from the exterior sun (V.5.7.23). This is a reference . . .

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