A History of Ancient Philosophy: From the Beginnings to Augustine

By Karsten Friis Johansen | Go to book overview

32

PLOTINUS

Plotinus (c.205-70) may be called the most prominent systematic metaphysician of Antiquity. Daringly combining Platonism, Aristotelian theology, and Stoic 'vitalism' he created a coherent 'philosophy of reflection', in which the absolute and infinite, the One, is reflected in the finite, in its totality, and of necessity-but in such a manner that the finite can reflect infinity. Via Augustine he was-indirectly-to have important influence on medieval philosophy. The Western world gained direct access to him through the Renaissance Platonist Ficino's Latin translation of 1492, which contributed to the reading of Plato in a Neoplatonic spirit during the Renaissance. Directly or indirectly, Plotinus' influence extends further-to the Cambridge Platonism of the second half of the seventeenth century, to German idealist philosophy, and to romantic poetry. Nicolaus Cusanus, Leibniz and Schelling are probably the most important thinkers who-although not Plotinians-have come closest to Plotinus' philosophical intentions.

Plotinus was a philosopher and a mystic. Probably this was a combination that at the time was the rule rather than the exception. But the way in which Plotinus tied the mystical mode of cognition to that of philosophy is special-also at that time. The mystical experience itself is probably everywhere the same. It cannot be communicated, for the 'unsayable' cannot be spoken of-or, as Plotinus himself put it: anyone who has experienced it for himself knows whereof I speak (Plot. VI 9, 9). Nevertheless, not a few mystics have attempted to communicate-in philosophy, art, or religion-and that implies a translation into a language that is tied to time and place. This is also true of Plotinus. He ties in with-is perhaps burdened by-a long philosophical tradition, which in a sense he completes. What is special for him is what might be called his intellectualistic mysticism. He distances himself as much as possible from the symbolic language of his time. In the style of his age he may call the highest principle 'god' or 'the father', but these are not symbols laden with significance: he distances himself firmly, for example from the mythical imagery of Gnosticism, and surely regards himself as the steward of a true Greek philosophical tradition that confronts oriental irrationality. There is no miraculous short-cut to knowledge of the highest. The path to what warrants philosophical reflection traverses philosophical reflection. In this respect-as in so many others-Plotinus feels himself to be the heir to Plato, and probably rightly so. Unlike the Christian

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A History of Ancient Philosophy: From the Beginnings to Augustine
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface xi
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Presocratic Philosophy 9
  • 1 - Myth, Poetry and Philosophy 11
  • 2 - Ionian Natural Philosophy 20
  • 3 - Heraclitus 29
  • 4 - The Pythagoreans 36
  • 5 - The Eleatics 45
  • 6 - Post-Parmenidean Natural Philosophy 59
  • 7 - Medical Science 79
  • Part II - The Great Century of Athens 83
  • 8 - Pericles' Athens 85
  • 9 - Tragedy and View of History 88
  • 10 - The Sophists 99
  • 11 - Socrates 118
  • Part III - Plato 137
  • 12 - Life, Works and Position 139
  • 13 - What is Virtue? Can Virtue Be Taught? 160
  • 14 - Idea and Man 173
  • 15 - The Good Constitution of State and Man 198
  • 16 - The Late Dialogues: Knowledge and Being 213
  • 17 - The Late Dialogues: Nature, Man and Society 236
  • 18 - Plato and the Early Academy 254
  • Part IV - Aristotle 267
  • 19 - Life, Works and Position 269
  • 20 - Logic and Theory of Science 293
  • 21 - Natural Philosophy and Psychology 316
  • 22 - Metaphysics and Theology 343
  • 23 - Ethics and Politics 366
  • 24 - Rhetoric and Poetics 392
  • 25 - The Early Peripatetics 400
  • Part V - Hellenistic Philosophy 405
  • 26 - Science and Philosophy 407
  • 27 - Epicurus 423
  • 28 - Early Stoicism 442
  • 29 - Scepticism 471
  • 30 - Greece and Rome 484
  • Part VI - Late Antiquity 499
  • 31 - Imperial Rome 501
  • 32 - Plotinus 532
  • 33 - Late Neoplatonism 556
  • 34 - Early Christian Thought 569
  • 35 - Augustine 588
  • Abbreviations General 625
  • Bibliography 639
  • Index 663
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