Plotinus on Intellect

Plotinus on Intellect

Plotinus on Intellect

Plotinus on Intellect

Synopsis

Plotinus (205-269 AD) is considered the founder of Neoplatonism, the dominant philosophical movement of late antiquity, and a rich seam of current scholarly interest. Whilst Plotinus' influence on the subsequent philosophical tradition was enormous, his ideas can also be seen as theculmination of some implicit trends in the Greek tradition from Parmenides, Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics. Emilsson's in-depth study focuses on Plotinus' notion of Intellect, which comes second in his hierarchical model of reality, after the One, unknowable first cause of everything. As opposed to ordinary human discursive thinking, Intellect's thought is all-at-once, timeless, truthful and a directintuition into 'things themselves'; it is presumably not even propositional. Emilsson discusses and explains this strong notion of non-discursive thought and explores Plotinus' insistence that this must be the primary form of thought. Plotinus' doctrine of Intellect raises a host of questions that Emilsson addresses. First, Intellect's thought is described as an attempt to grasp the One and at the same time as self-thought. How are these two claims related? How are they compatible? What lies in Plotinus' insistence thatIntellect's thought is a thought of itself? Second, Plotinus gives two minimum requirements of thought: that it must involve a distinction between thinker and object of thought, and that the object itself must be varied. How are these two pluralist claims related? Third, what is the relation betweenIntellect as a thinker and Intellect as an object of thought? Plotinus' position here seems to amount to a form of idealism, and this is explored.

Excerpt

Before I set out to introduce this book as such, it may be worthwhile to have a bird's eye view on the world according to Plotinus. With this in place, the introduction to the contents of the chapters to come can be seen in its proper context.

Plotinus conceives of reality as hierarchically ordered. At the top there is the One, also called the Good. It is the simplest or most unified 'thing' there is. It is so unified, in fact, that it contains no distinctions whatsoever. This implies that it isn't really correct to call it a 'thing', as I just did: it is 'beyond being' in the sense that there is nothing it can be said to be, nothing that can be predicated of it as such. in this context 'being' presupposes some particular form that limits the being in question, and a limit presupposes distinctions. None of this applies to the One. So if in spite of this we insist on calling it a thing, we must realize that it is no ordinary thing and in many ways defies the logic of things. It goes together with this view that the One cannot be thought or known: to think or to know something is to think or know what it is, to know the being of the thing thought about. the One doesn't even know itself, because self-knowledge requires some distinction between knower and known, and if it were to know itself, it would have to know itself as something non-simple. This absolutely simple One is the cause of everything else. How does Plotinus arrive at such a first principle?

If we are to make any sense of the sensible world around us as a whole and of individual things in it such as the animal species and their parts and attributes, we must posit intelligible principles, Platonic Ideas. This prompts Plotinus to posit a level of intelligible principles above the sensible realm. This quest for principles is a quest for something which explains the features of the sensible realm. Moreover, true to Plato and many other Greek thinkers, Plotinus demands that his principles possess the features they are to explain in other things in such a way that the question does not arise with respect to the principles why they possess these features. Take the sensible horse as an example: some matter or mass has taken on the . . .

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