The philosophy of Plotinus: part five

 

Movement and rest in ‘thought’, the most intense activity and stillness in unity

Intellect is both thought (thinking being, ‘that which primarily thinks’)1 and the objects of its creation existing in the realm of thought.2 It is eternal mind and absolute living Being.3 It contains a finite totality of non-sensory, interpenetrating beings which are both Forms and intelligences,4 and is the highest knowable reality, majestic and beautiful. It

‘…might be likened to a living sphere teeming with variety, to a globe of faces radiant with faces all living…with Intellect enthroned over all so that the place entire glows with Intellectual splendour.’5

In Intellect, there is no past nor future, only an eternal present. Though having shape (because it contains being), and despite existing as the absolute standard of measurement, it has no extension and is beyond all bound, measure, and even spatial and numerical infinitude.6 It is infinite power.

By an intensely active and stationary wandering within itself, in the universe of ‘the Meadow of Truth’,7 Intellect produces its act – everlasting Being.8 Motion (both in a creative outpouring and towards the Good, and the attainment of self-knowledge) enables the former, rest sustains the latter.9 The existence and movement of Intellect lie in the ceaseless diversity of its production.10

The lower activity of Intellect falls short of lasting unity, contemplating (thinking and looking at) the objects of its creation. As the creator of All, Intellect is unity-in-multiplicity – a unity of thought and Forms, a reflection of the whole within the part, an identicality of the whole and the part – of  thought, being and life.

‘(In) the true and first universe (of Intellect)…each part is not cut off from the whole; but the whole life of it and the whole intellect lives and thinks all together in one, and makes the part the whole and all bound in friendship with itself, since one part is not separated from another and has not become merely other, estranged from the rest…And since it is everywhere one and complete at every point it stays still and knows no alteration; for it does not make as one thing acting upon another. For what reason could it have for making, since it is deficient in nothing?’11

In a going outwards, the multiplicity of Intellect is a dissipation of self. In its higher activity – eternally loving and desiring its prior12 – and in its return, Intellect is above multiplicity. With Forms at rest, it approaches and unites in direct awareness with its source, the Good. In this process, thought (active actuality) is the bringing to completion of something prior to thought, and within it.

‘For it has something to think about because there is something else before it; and when it thinks itself it is in a way comprehending what it had from the vision of another in itself.’13

We are each an intelligible universe. Thus, to attain (or more precisely, return) to Intellect,14 because it is independent of our lower nature and the outward, we must leave the sensory world behind. Yet we can know it almost like an object of sense.15

Unlike sensation, which can only give knowledge of the images of objects existing independently of it and individually, knowledge in Intellect is undifferentiated from the object, because the objects exist as a partless unity-in-multiplicity, in which movement is both thought and primary, real and living substance. Thought cannot exist without this movement.16 The act of intellection requires the identity of subject, immaterial object and (movement in) the act of knowing.

‘The Intellectual-Principle is not something taking cognisance of things as sensation deals with sense objects existing independently of sense: on the contrary, it actually is the things it knows: it does not merely possess their images or representations: whence could it have taken them? No: it resides with its objects, identical with them, making a unity with them: knowledge of the immaterial is universally identical with its objects.’17

These objects are not abstractions but are concrete reality. Proof of their truth is neither necessary nor possible.18

Part five/to be continued…

Notes

1. II,9.1. In MacKenna’s translation, ‘Intellectual-Principle’ is the first emanation from the Good and is manifested in every Form. The term refers to the creative element of Divine Mind or Divine Intelligence. Plotinus defined thinking as a soul’s ‘…kind of seeking its substance and its self and what made it, and…in turning back in its contemplation and recognising itself it is at that point rightly and properly Intellect…’ VI,7.37.

2. IV,8.3

3. Cf. Timaeus 31B1 and 39E7-9

4. Each Form, as being and intellect, is both one and a composite of many parts existing prior to it. Consistent with Platonism, Plotinus understood the Forms to be the thoughts of God (see V,9.7). He used the metaphor of a circle and its radii to explain the multiplicity of beings in the universe of Mind: ‘Often for the purpose of exposition – as a help towards stating the nature of the produced multiplicity – we use the example of many lines radiating from one centre; but while we provide for individualisation we must carefully preserve mutual presence. Even in the case of our circle we need not think of separated radii; all may be taken as forming one surface: where there is no distinction even upon the one surface but all is power and reality undifferentiated, all the beings may be thought of as centres uniting at one central centre: we ignore the radial lines and think of their terminals at that centre, where they are at one. Restore the radii; once more we have lines, each touching a generating centre of its own, but that centre remains coincident with the one first centre; the centres all unite in that first centre and yet remain what they were, so that they are as many as are the lines to which they serve as terminals; the centres themselves appear as numerous as the lines starting from them and yet all those centres constitute a unity.
Thus we may liken the Intellectual Beings in their diversity to many centres coinciding with the one centre and themselves at one in it but appearing multiple on account of the radial lines – lines which do not generate the centres but merely lead to them. The radii, thus, afford a serviceable illustration for the mode of contact by which the Intellectual Unity manifests itself as multiple and multipresent.’ VI,5.5. For Plotinus, the bodies of the celestial living beings are spherical. Although Plotinus held that the Form of man exists in Intellect as a universal, in some sections of the Enneads, counter to traditional Platonic doctrine, he allowed the existence of Forms of individuals (see V,7). Thus we are each the All. ‘…to become Intellect does not involve the destruction or absorption of the particular personality but its return to its perfect archetypal reality…’ Armstrong, op. cit., vol. I, xxii. The universe of Intellect contains or in a sense is all particular minds or intelligences.

5. VI,7.15. Intellect is a ‘bulkless power’ in us, beyond sense-perception, ‘standing on itself, no feeble shadowy thing but the most living and intelligent of all, than which nothing is livelier or more intelligent or more substantial…’ VI,6.8. ‘…the perfect life, the true, real life, is in that transcendent intelligible reality, and…other lives are incomplete, traces of life, not perfect or pure and no more life than its opposite.’  I,4.3. Being and beauty are identical.

6. Because thought is common to all and is not physical, it has no need of these qualities. The unity of real beings would not be possible otherwise. Similarly, we all share the same Good.

7. Of the intelligible Plotinus wrote there is an ‘…endlessness for ever welling up in it, the unwearying and unwearing nature which in no way falls short in it, boiling over with life…’ VI,5.12. ‘Beings could not exist save by the activity of Intellectual-Principle; wandering down every way it produces thing after thing, but wandering always within itself in such self-bound wandering as authentic Intellect may know; this wandering permitted to its nature is among real beings which keep pace with its movement; but it is always itself; this is a stationary wandering, a wandering within ‘the Meadow of Truth’ from which it does not stray.
It holds and covers the universe which it has made the space, so to speak, of its movement, itself being also that universe which is space to it. And this Meadow of Truth is varied for that movement through it may be possible; suppose it not always and everywhere varied, the failing of diversity is a failure of movement; failure in movement would mean a failing of the Intellectual Act; halting, it has ceased to exercise its Intellectual Act; this ceasing, it ceases to be.
The Intellectual-Principle is the Intellectual Act; its movement is complete, filling Being complete; and the entire of Being is the Intellectual Act entire, comprehending all life and the unfailing succession of things. Because this Principle contains Identity with Difference its division is ceaselessly bringing the different things to life. Its entire movement is through life and among living things. To a traveller over land all is earth but earth abounding in difference: so in this journey the life through which Intellectual-Principle passes is one life but, in its ceaseless changing, a varied life.’ VI,7.13. The ‘Meadow of Truth’ is from Phaedrus 248B. Plotinus’ usage of the Greek for ‘wandering’ (pláne), applied to the life of Intellect, is from Parmenides 136E. The ‘planes’ of ‘Analytical’ Cubism can be analysed from this perspective. Real numbers (of which quantitative numbers are an image) are prior to and generate beings. They are also a particular kind of beings and forms with the same reality and causative power as other Forms. (Armstrong) Number is a structuring principle in the intelligible world and the Forms can be considered as a system of quasi-mathematical formulae, which project themselves onto Matter to produce the multiplicity of the physical world. (J. Dillon in his Introduction to Plotinus, The Enneads, Third ed., Abridged. Trans. S. MacKenna. op.cit.).

8. ‘Intellect, to act at all, must inevitably comport difference with identity; otherwise it could not distinguish itself from its object by standing apart from it, nor could it ever be aware of the realm of things whose existence demands otherness, nor could there be so much as a duality.’ VI,7.39. Plotinus defined being as the self-directed activity of thought. ‘The Being of Intellect, therefore, is activity, and there is nothing to which the activity is directed; so it is self-directed. Thinking itself, it is thus with itself and holds its activity directed to itself.’ V,3.7. Being is an image, but of an original so great that the very copy stands as a reality.

9. ‘(Intellect) is both at rest and in motion; for it moves around Him [the Good]. So, then, the universe, too, both moves in its circle and is at rest.’ II,2.3. Plotinus also referred to the ‘static activity’ of Intellect.  II,9.1.

10. ‘…we must think of it as a quiet, unwavering motion; containing all things and being all things, it is a multiple but at once indivisible and comporting difference.’ VI,9.5. Multiplicity in Intellect is not evil because Intellect is unified. Since Intellect has multiplicity, it is less than the One.

11. III,2.1. Also ‘From everything which has been said this is perfectly clear, that each thing in the All, according to how it is in nature and disposition, contributes to the All and is acted upon and acts, just as in each individual living thing each of the parts, according to how it is in nature and condition, contributes to the whole and serves its purposes and has its own proper rank and utility; it gives what comes from it and receives as much of what comes from the others as its nature is capable of receiving; and all has a kind of common awareness of all; and if each of the parts was a living being, it would have functions as a living being different from its functions as a part.’ IV,4.45. ‘Intellect is many, intelligible, intelligent and in motion because it thinks and each thought, to be a thought, must be something multiply various – i.e. in Intellect, thought thinks of another. Substance thinks in Intellect, but the greatest substance (the Good) stands still in majesty since it transcends thought….Thinking brings substance into being. Thinking is a power of generation itself. Thought and substance are the same things. The Good is beyond substance and thought and is alone by itself with no need of the things which come from it. it did not act before it generated activity, nor did it think before it generated thought. There is no thought in the Good itself, otherwise the Good would be in a unity with that which is less than it. Thus thought and substance are together.’ Armstrong, op. cit., vol. VII, 209-211.

12. I.e. Formless Form. ‘…in Intellect there is desire and a movement to convergence with its form.’  III,8.11. Intellect always needs, desires and attains the Good; but the Good, as the one productive power, needs nothing.

13. VI,7.40

14. Plotinus believed we must first acquire the moral and intellectual perfection necessary to attain Intellect before aspiring to the One. He referred to both the One and Intellect as God. For example, we originally existed in Intellect, in which some were even gods: ‘…pure souls and intellect united with the whole of reality…’. VI, 4.14. ‘But if someone is able to turn around, either by himself or having the good luck to have his hair pulled by Athene herself, he will see God and himself and the All…’ VI,5.7.

15. VI,9.5

16. ‘But if someone were to say that “in immaterial things the knowledge and the thing are the same”, one must understand what is said in the sense that it does not mean that the knowledge is the thing nor the reason contemplating the thing the thing itself, but the other way round, that the thing itself when it is without matter is object of thought and thought, not thought in the sense of being a definition of the thing or an intuition of it, but the thing itself in the intelligible is nothing else but intellect and knowledge. For the knowledge is not directed to itself, but the thing there makes the knowledge, which does not stay like the knowledge of a thing in matter, to be different: that is, makes it true knowledge: that is, not an image of the thing but the thing itself. So the thought of movement has not made absolute movement, but absolute movement has made the thought of it, so that it has made itself as movement and thought; for movement there is also the thought of that thing itself, and it itself is movement, because it is the first movement – for there is no other before it – and real movement, because it is not incidental to something else, but is the active actuality of what is moved, which exists in actuality. So, again, it is substance…’ VI,6.6. ‘…if it (Intellect) stands still, it does not think; so that if it came to a standstill, it has not thought; but if this is so, it does not even exist. It is, then, thought; that is, all movement filling all substance, and all substance is all thought encompassing all life…’ VI,7.13.

17. V,4.2. Plato argued for the same pathway to unity with real Being. By developing the divine within us – ‘thought’ in its movement – we can unite our understanding with what is understood. ‘There is of course only one way to look after anything and that is to give it its proper food and motions. And the motions that are akin to the divine in us are the thoughts and revolutions of the universe. We should each therefore attend to these motions and by learning about the harmonious circuits of the universe repair the damage done at birth to the circuits in our head, and so restore understanding and what is understood to their original likeness to each other. When that is done we shall have achieved the goal set us by the gods…’ Timaeus 48, 90. The One’s inability to see itself as external is the supersession of intellection. Plotinus made frequent use of the metaphor of light to express the unity of the subject and the object of contemplation: ‘…shining down upon all, the light of godlike Intellection.’ I,6.5.

18. The real beings of Intellect exist in the ‘thinking’ subject. ‘In its (Intellect’s) thinking, then, there is activity and motion, and in its thinking itself, substance and being: for, existing, it thinks itself as existent…’ VI,2.8.

Hegel on contradiction: part four

 

…internal self-movement proper, instinctive urge in general, (the appetite or nisus of the monad, the entelechy of absolutely simple essence), is nothing else but the fact that something is, in one and the same respect, self-contained and deficient, the negative of itself. Abstract self-identity is not as yet a livingness, but the positive, being in its own self a negativity, goes outside itself and undergoes alteration. Something is therefore alive only in so far as it contains contradiction within it, and moreover is this power to hold and endure the contradiction within it. But if an existent in its positive determination is at the same time incapable of reaching beyond its negative determination and holding the one firmly in the other, is incapable of containing contradiction within it, then it is not the living unity itself, not ground, but in the contradiction falls to the ground. Speculative thinking consists solely in the fact that thought holds fast contradiction, and in it, its own self, but does not allow itself to be dominated by it as in ordinary thinking, where its determinations are resolved by contradiction only into other determinations or into nothing.


G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, Trans., A.V.Miller, Humanities Press, New York, 1976, pp. 440-441

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Part four/to be continued…

Hegel on contradiction: part three

 

the negative relation to self (is) the innermost source of all activity, of all animate and spiritual self-movement, the dialectical soul that everything true possesses and through which alone it is true; for on this subjectivity alone rests the sublating of the opposition between Notion and reality, and the unity that is truth. The second negative, the negative of the negative…is this sublating of the contradiction, but just as little as the contradiction is it an act of external reflection, but rather the innermost, most objective moment of life and spirit, through which a subject, a person, a free being, exists.

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, Trans., A.V.Miller, Humanities Press, New York, 1976, pp. 835-836

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Part three/to be continued…

The philosophy of Plotinus: part three

Movement and rest in ‘thought’, the most intense activity and stillness in unity

The creative process is a result of illumination from the One which from its superabundance, overflows and generates its image, Intellect. Living Mind in turn, stable beyond change, spontaneously and eternally pours forth the multiple power of the Forms in its image, Soul. It does so without reason, calculation, imagination or memory.1

Soul, like Mind, is moved and aspires to and returns into its prior. There it is filled and in the movement of its own excess, creates through its image Nature, the universe of sensation. As the lowest part of Soul, Nature does not know, but only gives form to matter. Because it brings form into being, creation is both contemplation and consummation,2 the divine contained in every act. Yet man,3 having ceased to be Intellect, cannot produce true images of himself. On the contrary, restoring himself to Intellect, he again becomes creator of everything, he again becomes God.4

Plotinus valued the dynamic creative soul5 and the principle (power) of creation over the created object.6 The two-way dynamism of his doctrine – the flowing from, return to, and absorption in the Absolute – is a complex dialectics of ‘mind’ involving a simultaneity of identity and difference, rest and movement. Plotinus theorised a dual activity on each level of being: one activity that is internal to it and one that goes out from it. The dynamism and fluidity of his doctrine is paramount.7

In the Enneads, movement is not the sign of life, it is the primary life. It is common to all life in ‘the sleepless light’8 of Intellect. It is the life of ‘mind’ and the active actuality of being and substance. It is being and substance itself.9 Being and movement are a unity since movement, in taking being from potentiality to actuality, makes it perfect, makes form awake.10 The artificial separation of being from movement occurs in discursive reason.11

Movement occurs through elevation, introversion (intensification and concentration), and a flowing outwards (dispersion and diminution). The fourth method of ‘thought’ which produces movement is in the dialectical opposition between the one and the many. This underlies the other three. Plotinus’ usage of the term is spiritual and moral,12 and he emphasised its importance with many metaphors:

‘…the Good stays still in himself; but intellect moves about him in its activity, as also it lives around him. And soul dances round intellect outside…’13

Movement, rest and being are the inseparable genera of real beings.14 When Intellect thinks these, they therefore exist, beyond the physical universe. Rest is not the opposite of movement, but is different to it. It is not a passive state of being.

‘…it is impossible to say that rest is the abolition of movement because it does not exist when movement has stopped, but when movement exists rest also exists. And rest there in the intelligible does not consist in the fact that something which is naturally adapted to move is not moving, but in so far as rest has a hold on it, it stands still, but in so far as it is in motion it will always be moving: therefore it stands still by rest and moves by movement. But here below it moves by movement, but when movement is not there it stays still because it is deprived of the movement which it ought to have.’15

For Soul, knowledge of itself is self-movement aspiring towards its purity.16 In bringing the copy of Intellect to this world, Soul originates the copies of movement and rest – motion17 and stillness.

Part three/to be continued…

Notes

1. This function of Intellect, the true creator of this universe, is based on the Demiurge or Craftsman of the Timaeus, in which thought in its movement is creation. In this dialogue Plato argued that the elements of the universe – earth, air, fire, and water – are composed of planes, which are in turn made out of elementary triangular shapes. Bergson, who thought that we are all born Platonists (Selections from Bergson. op. cit., 64), that there exists nothing positive outside Ideas (Creative Evolution.1907, trans. A. Mitchell, New York, 1911, reprint., 1983, 316), and that ‘consciousness does not spring from the brain’ (Creative Evolution. op. cit., 262), thought that there are ‘thousands of different planes of consciousness’ (Matter and Memory. 1896. Trans. N. Paul, W. Palmer. New York,1988, 241). Aristotle attributes a highly mathematicised account of the Forms to Plato’s later years.

2. ‘And lovers, too, are among those who see and press on eagerly towards a form.’ III,8.7

3. I use this gender consciously, both because Plotinus did, and in order not to disguise the patriarchal nature of his philosophy.

4. ‘…To me, moreover, it seems that if we ourselves were archetypes, Ideas, veritable Being, and the Idea with which we construct here were our veritable Essence, then our creative power, too, would toilessly effect its purpose: as man now stands, he does not produce in his work a true image of himself: become man, he has ceased to be the All; ceasing to be man – we read – “he soars aloft and administers the Cosmos entire”; restored to the All he is maker of the All.’ V,8.7. Beyond this, ‘The vision has been of God in travail of a beautiful offspring, God engendering a universe within himself in a painless labour…’ V,8.11.

5. IV,3.10

6. ‘What we long for is the originating power, not the originated thing. For this reason, nature, having an immediate relationship to the creative power, also has a precedence over art.’ In Barasch, M. Theories of Art, From Plato to Winckelmann, New York, 1985, 37.

7. Plotinus drew on the Stoic notion of a dynamic power diffuse throughout the universe, which he concentrated in the One.

8. VI,1.8

9. ‘For if movement is the activity of substance, and being and the primary genera altogether are actively actual, movement could not be something incidental, but, being the activity of what is actively actual, could not any longer be called something which contributes to the completion of substance, but is substance itself: so that it has not entered some subsequent genus, not even quality, but is ranked as simultaneous.’ VI,2.15.

10. On this particular point, compare Republic Bk VII 529-530 in which Plato argued ‘that the true, philosophical astronomer should not seriously study the motions of the visible heavenly bodies, which, being material, are imperfect and changeable, but devote his attention to the laws of motion perceived by the intellect alone.’ Armstrong, op. cit., Vol. II, 12. The text around that to which Armstrong refers is ‘“Isn’t the true astronomer in the same position when he watches the movements of the stars?” I asked. “He will think that the heavens and heavenly bodies have been put together by their maker as well as such things can be; but he will also think it absurd to suppose that there is an always constant and absolutely invariable relation of day to night, or of day and night to month, or month to year, or, again, of the periods of the other stars to them and to each other. They are all visible and material, and it’s absurd to look for exact truth in them.”’ At 529d2-3 Plato equated ‘the true realities’ of the stars with their ‘true relative velocities’. As I have stated previously, the precedent for Plotinus regarding movement and motion was clearly in the import and text of Plato’s writing. See Note 40.

11. ‘…(movement) is found in being not as inhering in a subject; for it is its active actuality and neither of them is without the other except in our conception of them, and the two natures are one nature: for being is actual, not potential…discursive thought says that they are separate…’ VI,2.7.  ‘…if we bring in also Intellect and its life, we shall posit as common to all life a single genus, movement. And we shall posit substance and movement, which is the primary life, as two genera. For even if they are one, [the observer] separates them in thought, finding the one not one; otherwise it would not have been possible to separate them. But observe in other things also how movement and life are clearly separated from being, even if not in the true being, yet in the shadow and that which has the same name as being. For as in the portrait of a man many things are wanting, and especially the decisively important thing, life, so in the things perceived by sense being is a shadow of being, separated from that which is most fully being, which was life in the archetype.’ VI,2.7.

12. ‘When the soul begins again to mount, it comes not to something alien but to its very self; thus detached, it is in nothing but itself; self-gathered it is no longer in the order of being; it is in the Supreme.’ VI, 9.11.

13. I,8.2.

14. In VI,2 Plotinus expounds the Platonic doctrine of the categories of the Intelligible World (Sophist 254D-257A), Being, Rest, Motion, Same and Other.

15. VI,3.27. In the Timaeus is an encapsulation of a process and purpose which is of the greatest importance to Western philosophy, Christian theology and Western art theory and practice. ‘And (the Demiurge) gave each divine being two motions, one uniform in the same place, as each always thinks the same thoughts about the same things, the other forward, as each is subject to the movement of the Same and uniform; but he kept them unaffected by the other five kinds of motion, that each might be as perfect as possible.’ (my Italics) Timaeus, 8,40. Timaeus and Critias, op. cit., 52. (‘And he bestowed two movements upon each, one in the same spot and uniform, whereby it should be ever constant to its own thoughts concerning the same thing; the other forward, but controlled by the revolution of the same and uniform: but for the other five movements he made it motionless and still, that each star might attain the highest completeness of perfection.’ The Timaeus of Plato. Ed. R. D. Archer-Hind. New York: Arno, 1973, 131-133.) This little group of words summarises the pathway Plato established and Plotinus maintained – comprising at the same time identity and difference, stasis and movement – between perfection, its divine medium, and creation. It asserts that creation and ‘thought’ in its motion are equivalent and defines the nature of that process. The motions of Plato’s divine beings differ from those of the sensory world – they are effects of the soul in its activity. Plato is too often simplistically remembered as having given us eternal Forms (Plato as an eternal Form?). This quotation again exemplifies the importance and complexity of motion in his philosophy.

16. III,7.4. ‘…knowledge is self-movement, since it is a sight of being and an active actuality, not a state; so that it also comes under movement – but, if you like, under rest, or under both; but if under both, it is as something mixed…’ VI,2.18. Plotinus considered the ‘unchanging’ stars as part of Soul – therefore their movement is not spatial as in this universe, but one of divine life and vitality. It is therefore a self-referential and eternal movement of being which, to anything outside, would appear to be at rest. (my Italics) ‘This is the origin of the fixed stars, which are living beings divine and eternal and remain always rotating in the same place and the same sense…’ Timaeus 8, 40.

17. ‘…soul is the “origin of motion” and is responsible for the motion of other things, and it is moved by itself, and gives life to the ensouled body…’ IV,7.9. The quotation within the quotation is from Plato’s Phaedrus 245C9. Plato believed soul to be the ultimate cause of motion: Laws Bk X 895-897 – ‘Athenian: So what’s the definition of the thing we call the soul? Surely we can do nothing but use our formula of a moment ago: “motion capable of moving itself”. Cleinias: Do you mean that the entity which we all call “soul” is precisely that which is defined by the expression “self-generating motion”’?…Athenian: Very well, then. So soul, by virtue of its own motions, stirs into movement everything in the heavens and on earth and in the sea. The names of the motions of soul are: wish, reflection, diligence, counsel, opinion true and false, joy and grief, cheerfulness and fear, love and hate…Soul also uses all related or initiating motions which take over the secondary movements of matter and stimulate everything to increase or diminish, separate or combine…’. Notice that Plato cited emotions as motion(s of soul).

Hegel on contradiction: part two

 

…the negative as determined in the sphere of essence (is) the principle of all self-movement…External, sensuous motion itself is contradiction’s immediate existence. Something moves, not because at one moment it is here and at another there, but because at one and the same moment it is here and not here, because in this ‘here’, it at once is and is not. The ancient dialecticians must be granted the contradictions that they pointed out in motion; but it does not follow that therefore there is no motion, but on the contrary, that motion is existent contradiction itself.

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, Trans., A.V.Miller, Humanities Press, New York, 1976, 440

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Part two/to be continued…

The philosophy of Plotinus: part two

Movement and rest in ‘thought’, the most intense activity and stillness in unity

The hypostases are interconnected, with Body having its existence in Soul, Soul its source in Intellect1 and Intellect its generation from the One. At the same time the One has independence from Intellect as Intellect in turn has from Soul. The notion of illumination passes through the Enneads. The One lights Intellect which in turn illuminates Soul which gives light to this universe. The further away from the One, the weaker the illumination.

The double movement in Plotinus’ doctrine – from unity to increasing multiplicity and return to unification and unity concerns an eternal outpouring from a transcendent One, descending through levels to the lowest reality – the universe of matter and the senses. With the purpose of showing the way to God, it is also an urging of soul through purification2 and simplification to ascend from a meditation on this universe to the one of intelligible reality, to union with the Good, which alone can give Soul true satisfaction. The impetus for the ascent is the memory of a beauty infinitely greater than its weak presence in this world.

Plotinus believed we have forgotten our true nature, which lies within us. So this ‘ascent of the mind to God’, fuelled by desire and remembrance, is equally a journey within, to the core of our being. The One is like the centre of concentric circles. It is beyond thought and desire, and therefore beyond movement. Intellect, which is thought and desire, both moves around the One, and is at contemplative rest. Soul, moved by aspiration towards and desire for Intellect, revolves around it.3

Progress of the soul in freeing itself from illusion and moving towards its goal, beyond the Platonic world of Forms, requires enormous moral and spiritual striving, of which few are capable4 and signifies a deepening contemplation, a closer communion between soul and its origin in pure reality.5 Plotinus’ philosophy unites the religious and the philosophical. Armstrong wrote that it amounts to a prayer.6

The perfect One, without movement, eternally creates and actuates its image, Intellect. Number gives Intellect – the eternal living reality and perfect unity-in-multiplicity – its structure. It in turn produces its image and activity, Soul. Nature is the lower phase and image of Soul, which, as its rational forming principle, carries form to matter.7 Though aspiring to Intellect in a ceaseless contemplation and therefore productive, it is almost the lowest form of contemplation, producing weak and dreamy forms, below which is only matter:

‘What does this mean? That what is called nature is a soul, the offspring of a prior soul with a stronger life; that it quietly holds contemplation in itself, not directed upwards or even downwards, but at rest in what it is, in its own repose and a kind of self-perception, and in this consciousness and self-perception it sees what comes after it, as far as it can, and seeks no longer, but has accomplished a vision of splendour and delight.’8

Matter (which also exists in Intellect), receives the Forms in the three-dimensional space of this universe. Though often referred to in the Enneads as ‘evil’, it has a weak tendency towards the One and so shares in its superabundant productivity.

Activity in the divine is reflected in the activity of the material universe. Existence at every level tends through quickening aspiration to rejoin the level above, of which it is a product and image. Contemplation of the source of an hypostasis always precedes and generates activity and production:

‘The procession of Intellect from the One is necessary and eternal, as are also the procession of Soul from Intellect and the forming and ordering of the material universe by Soul. This emanation from the One is because everything perfect is creative and produces something else. Here we touch an element in Plotinus’s thought which is of great importance, the emphasis on life, on the dynamic, vital character of spiritual being. Perfection for him is not merely static. It is a fullness of living and productive power. The One for him is Life and Power, an infinite spring of power, an unbounded life, and therefore necessarily productive.’9

Plotinus’ philosophy concerns one vast living system, streaming from the One: 10

‘…as the (Divine) plan holds, life is poured copiously throughout a Universe, engendering the universal things and weaving variety into their being, never at rest from producing an endless sequence of comeliness and shapeliness, a living pastime.’11

Life is an activity and power which is omnipresent, ever fresh, inexhaustible, ‘brimming over with its own vitality’,12 unquantifiable and indivisible – what is in the whole is in the part. The greater the living movement, the greater the beauty, and the more the embodied Good, which wakes and raises up the souls of those who respond to it. Hence the more intense is Soul’s desire for the source of that life, for the unity which overcomes loneliness and spiritual incompleteness: 13

‘So here below also beauty is what illuminates good proportions rather than the good proportions themselves, and this is what is loveable. For why is there more light of beauty on a living face, but only a trace of it on a dead one, even if its flesh and its proportions are not yet wasted away? And are not the more life-like statues the more beautiful ones, even if the others are better proportioned? And is not an uglier living man more beautiful than the beautiful man in a statue? Yes, because the living is more desirable; and this is because it has soul; and this is because it has more the form of good; and this means that it is somehow coloured by the light of the Good, and being so coloured wakes and rises up and lifts up that which belongs to it, and as far as it can makes it good and wakes it.’14

Life for Plotinus is eternal creativity and creation, ultimately that of self.15 He several times used the metaphor of a tree to illustrate the process:

‘For the gathering together of all things into one is the principle, in which all are together and all make a whole. And individual things proceed from this principle while it remains within; they come from it as from a single root which remains static in itself, but they flower out into a divided multiplicity, each one bearing an image of that higher reality, but when they reach this lower world one comes to be in one place and one in another, and some are close to the root and others advance farther and split up to the point of becoming, so to speak, branches and twigs and fruits and leaves; and those that are closer to the root remain for ever…’16

Part two/to be continued…

Notes

1. Both Intellect and Soul are Forms.

2. Plotinus distinguished between ‘civic’ and ‘purificatory’ virtues. The former pertain to life in this world, the latter to those which lead the Soul to ‘another life, that of the Gods’ and in Intellect. I,2.7.

3. ‘All things are around the King of all, and That is the cause of all good and beautiful things, and all things belong to That, and the second things are around the Second and the third around the Third.’  I,7.2. This is one of the foundation-texts of Neoplatonic theology and is quoted from the questionably authentic Second Letter of Plato (312e1-4). In the Timaeus circles are the governing force in the universe and in our heads. Also ‘…if one ranks the Good as a centre one would rank Intellect as an unmoved circle and Soul as a moving circle; but moving by aspiration.’ IV,4.16.

4. ‘…to those of power to reach, it is present; to the inapt, absent.’ VI,9.7. Cf. Bergson’s identification of two moral and spiritual types and his comparison between ‘static religion’ and ‘dynamic religion’ in ‘The Two Sources of Morality and Religion’, 1932.

5. Soul arrives at Intellect by contemplation but Intellect arrives at the Good through immediate unity with it.

6. Ibid, Vol.5, 29. ‘What is new (in Plotinus’ system)…is the notion of making the ‘Ideas’ states of being of the Intellect and no longer distinct objects, of bringing the very subject of thought into the intelligible world, of considering the hypostases less as entities than as spiritual attitudes.’ Henry op. cit., li.

7. Here I use Armstrong’s terminology. MacKenna translated this as ‘Lower Soul’, ‘Nature-Looking and Generative Soul’, ‘Logos of the Universe’ and ‘ Reason-Principle of the Universe’.

8. III,8.4. Also ‘the Nature best and most to be loved may be found there only where there is no least touch of Form.’ VI,7.33.

9. Armstrong, op. cit., vol. I, xviii-xix.

10. ‘…Life streaming from Life; for energy runs through the Universe and there is no extremity at which it dwindles out…’ III,8.5. ‘…the law is, “some life after the Primal Life, a second where there is a first; all linked in one unbroken chain; all eternal; divergent types being engendered only in the sense of being secondary”.’ II,9.3.

11. III,2.15.

12. VI,5.12. The vital power of Romanticism, traceable to Plotinus’ doctrine, does not imitate nature, it is the hand of nature. Thus the artwork is not at third remove from the Idea, rather, it carries the viewer ‘upwards’ and ‘inwards’ to it. See Kant’s Critique of Judgement (1790) Bk II, Analytic of the Sublime, No. 46 (Fine art is the art of genius) ‘Since talent, as an innate productive faculty of the artist, belongs itself to nature, we may put it this way: Genius is the innate mental aptitude (ingenium) through which nature gives the rule to art.’  The Sturm und Drang movement in Germany between 1770 and 1790 (with parallels in England and France) was the earliest expression of Romanticism and had vitalism as its nucleus.

13. ‘Here is living, the true; that of today, all living apart from Him, is but a shadow, a mimicry.’ VI,9.9. Although the Cubists’ use of (developments on) the philosophies of Plato and Plotinus was certainly influenced by the ‘alienating’ effects of rapid technological developments at the turn of the century, Panofsky positioned this in a deeper, historical context, arguing that doubt and the turn to speculative thought (questioning the relationship between reality, senses, ‘mind’ and artistic production) dates from Mannerism. ‘…the Mannerists considered it obvious that this “idea” or concetto could by no means be purely subjective or “psychological”; and the question arose, for the first time, how it was at all possible for the mind to form a notion of this kind – a notion that cannot simply be obtained from nature, yet must not originate in man alone. This question led eventually to the question of the possibility of artistic production as such…precisely such a way of thinking was bound to realise that that which in the past had seemed unquestionable was thoroughly problematical: the relationship of the mind to reality as perceived by the senses…Before the eyes of art theorists there opened an abyss hidden until then, and they felt the need to close it by means of philosophical speculation…Earlier art theory (pre- mid-sixteenth century) had tried to lay the practical foundations for artistic production; now it had to face the task of proving its theoretical legitimacy. Thought now took refuge, so to speak, in a metaphysics meant to justify the artist in claiming for his inner notions a suprasubjective validity as to both correctness and beauty.’  Panofsky, op. cit., 82-83. Also ‘At odds with nature the human mind fled to God in that mood at once triumphant and insecure…’, ibid., 99. More broadly (or perhaps more profoundly) – ‘the opposition between “idealism” and “naturalism” that ruled the philosophy of art until the end of the nineteenth century and under multifarious disguises – Expressionism and Impressionism, Abstraction and Empathy – retained its place in the twentieth, must in the final analysis appear as a “dialectical antinomy.”…To recognise the diversity of these solutions and to understand their historical presuppositions is worthwhile for history’s sake, even though philosophy has come to realise that the problem underlying them is by its very nature insoluble.’ Ibid., 126.

14. VI,7.22. ‘Why are the most living portraits the most beautiful, even though the other happen to be more symmetric? Why is the living ugly more attractive than the sculptured handsome? It is that the one is more nearly what we are looking for, and this because there is soul there, because there is more of the Idea of The Good…and this illumination awakens and lifts the soul and all that goes with it, so that the whole man is won over to goodness and in the fullest measure stirred to life.’ VI,7.22. Plato also tied life to truth. On the superiority of speech to writing – Socrates: ‘I mean the kind that is written on the soul of the hearer together with understanding…’ Phaedrus replied: ‘You mean the living and animate speech of a man with knowledge, of which written speech might fairly be called a kind of shadow.’ Phaedrus 276.

15. ‘If there had been a moment from which He began to be, it would be possible to assert his self-making in the literal sense; but since what He is He is from before eternity, his self-making is to be understood as simultaneous with Himself; the being is one and the same with the making, the eternal ‘bringing into existence’.’ VI.8,20. Also ‘Is that enough? Can we end the discussion by saying this? No, my soul is still in even stronger labour. Perhaps she is now at the point when she must bring forth, having reached the fullness of her birth-pangs in her eager longing for the One.’ V.3,17.

16. III,3.7. Also ‘The Supreme is the Term of all; it is like the principle and ground of some vast tree of rational life; itself unchanging, it gives reasoned being to the growth into which it enters.’ VI,8.15, and IV,4.11. In Creative Evolution, Bergson wrote ‘…life is tendency, and the essence of a tendency is to develop in the form of a sheaf, creating, by its very growth, divergent directions among which its impetus is divided.’ In H. Larrabee, ed. Selections from Bergson. New York, 1949, 72. Also compare Plotinus – ‘The fact that the product contains diversity and difference does not warrant the notion that the producer must be subject to corresponding variations. On the contrary, the more varied the product, the more certain the unchanging identity of the producer: even in the single animal the events produced by Nature are many and not simultaneous; there are the age periods, the developments at fixed epochs – horns, beard, maturing breasts, the acme of life, procreation – but the principles which initially determined the nature of the being are not thereby annulled…this is the unalterable wisdom of the Cosmos…’ IV.4,11 with Bergson ‘The animal takes its stand on the plant, man bestrides animality, and the whole of humanity, in space and time, is one immense army galloping beside and before and behind each of us in an overwhelming charge able to beat down every resistance and clear the most formidable obstacles, perhaps even death.’ From Creative Evolution in Selections from Bergson. op. cit., 105.

The philosophy of Plotinus

Plotinus (204/5-270), Anonymous, white marble, Ostiense Museum, Ostia Antica, Rome

Plotinus (204/5-270), Anonymous, white marble, Ostiense Museum, Ostia Antica, Rome

28.10.1997

Movement and rest in ‘thought’, the most intense activity and stillness in unity

Plotinus, the main expositor of Neoplatonism, was critical of democracy, had friends in the Roman aristocracy, and, despite the rejection of his proposal for the construction of Platonopolis, to be a city of philosophers functioning according to Plato’s Laws, was highly regarded by the emperor Gallienus. His writings, in the Enneads (according to Porphyry, from the age of forty nine), represent his mature thought.

Within this body of pacific austerity, Plotinus’ mysticism builds to a rationalised ecstasy. Reflecting this tension, his equation between contemplation and activity is central to his doctrine. By turning away from the external world1 and an inward concentration of spiritual energy through ‘reason’, the aim of his philosophy was that his soul and the souls of others might re-discover their true self and ascend to union with it and with their common source in god.

Although he was the last great philosopher of Western antiquity, developments on his treatment of spiritual freedom and purpose have continued to the present.2  His work is a blend of the writings of Plato, Aristotle and other Greek philosophers (particularly the Stoics.3 Major sources from his own time were Numenius of Apamea and Ammonius Saccas, of whom he was a pupil. His dominant influence, however, was clearly Plato.

Plotinus was open in his regard for Plato – ‘that godlike man Plato’,4 ‘the illustrious Plato’.5 His debt to Plato, as revealed in the Enneads, was always in his thoughts. He regarded his own writing as following and interpreting Plato’s philosophy, even attributing his mysticism to him.

The Plotinian scholar Paul Henry believes that the continued life of Plato’s philosophy is borne within that of Plotinus, in which dialectic becomes metaphysics – and that as a mystic, Plotinus has been perhaps a greater inspiration for Western philosophy than even Plato himself.6

Such distinctions between Platonic dialectic and Neoplatonic metaphysics are misleading since the differences which exist lie essentially in points of form not in the process of the philosophers’ intent.7 Plotinus developed on a philosophy which itself underwent significant development by Plato. The shift by the latter in his treatment of non-discursive elements (particularly the emotions) in relation to ‘reason’ – first banishing them, then in his later dialogues, allowing them a role in the soul’s aspiration to truth8 – is carried further by Plotinus, in whose philosophy they were central to the attainment of the Good.

Both Plato and Plotinus distinguished between the realm of Ideas beyond time, and the sensible world of matter, existing in time. They also held to a transcendent God, beyond even Ideas and, following from Socrates, both considered the soul to be immaterial and immortal.

One variation between the philosophies of the two men concerns the location of the Forms. For Plato, they exist in the ‘place above the heavens’9 but for Plotinus they are more forcefully tied to the nature of soul. Yet, both in the general inward tenor of his philosophy, and overtly, Plato prepared the ground for Plotinus believing that the Forms can exist within the individual.10

Movement and the tension between it and the Good is central to Plotinus’ philosophy and is considered to be another difference between the doctrines of the two men,11 but again, Plotinus developed on what lay in the work of his predecessor. ‘Thought’s’ double movement of ascent to and descent from the most general concepts of the higher world, around which the Enneads were written, was established in the Republic.12 The importance Plotinus accords to the emotions, in both his style – eager and inspired with spiritual purpose – and in his method, is reflected in the significance movement has in his philosophy.  His positioning of vitality and intuition as non-discursive means embodies this.

In order of rank and emanation, the three hypostases around which the Enneads are built are the One (the Good – for which Plotinus frequently used masculine pronouns), Intellect (Divine Mind or Thought – the realm of Forms) and Soul (All-Soul, the Principle of Life). Nature is a quasi-hypostasis. The Gods are frequently mentioned. Beneath the universe of Intellect is the universe of matter. Each hypostasis is inferior to the one preceding it and good to that which follows it, matter having the lowest standing.13

Part one/to be continued…

Notes

1. Porphyry wrote that Plotinus ‘laboured strenuously to free himself and rise above the bitter waves of this blood-drenched life’. Porphyry, ‘On the Life of Plotinus and the Arrangement of His Work’  in  The Enneads. Third ed. Abridged. Trans. S. MacKenna. London: Penguin, 1991, cxxi.

2. Ficino’s translation into Latin of Plotinus’ philosophy in 1492 was pivotal to this. (He produced the first Latin translation of all Plato’s dialogues in 1484.)

3.‘In style Plotinus is concise, dense with thought, terse, more lavish of ideas than of words, most often expressing himself with a fervid inspiration. He followed his own path rather than that of tradition, but in his writings both the Stoic and Peripatetic doctrines are sunk; Aristotle’s Metaphysics, especially, is condensed in them, all but entire.’ Porphyry, op. cit., cxii. (Porphyry wrote a [lost] commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, known to Arab scholars.) MacKenna, consistent with his lyricism, wrote that the Enneads embody the pouring of new wine into very old bottles. See MacKenna’s notes in Plotinus. The Enneads. Third ed. Trans. S. MacKenna.  London: Faber and Faber, 1962.

4. Enneads  III,5,1. Further citations from the Enneads will omit the title.

5. IV,8,1.

6. P. Henry. ‘The Place of Plotinus in the History of Thought’. In The Enneads. Third ed. Abridged, op. cit., xlii – lxxxiii.

7. Compare the best-known ‘distinctions’ between the two philosophies – alternately, Plotinus’ division of reality into levels and his postulation of a One superior to the realm of Forms – with the sub-sections in Plato’s analogy of the Divided Line (Intelligence, Mathematical Reasoning, Belief and Illusion) Republic VI, 509d-511e, reflected in the hierarchy of both Plato’s ideal state and model of the soul, and ‘“The good therefore may be said to be the source not only of the intelligibility of the objects of knowledge, but also of their being and reality; yet it is not itself that reality, but is beyond it, and superior to it in dignity and power.”’ Republic VI, 509b. Further, ‘…on at least one occasion (Plato) lectured to a general audience. We are told by Aristoxenus, a pupil of Aristotle, that many in Plato’s audience were baffled and disappointed by a lecture in which he maintained that Good is one.’ The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. Ed. R. Audi. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995, 623.) Panofsky, for example, accepted Plato at his word, confusing the reason of cognition with the non-discursive ‘reason’ of dualist contemplation, contributing to the maintenance of both a false distinction between Plato and Plotinus and a barrier to an understanding of their philosophies, of the relationship between them, and of their impact on Western culture. ‘Ultimately the theory of Ideas, originally a philosophy of human reason, was transformed almost into a logic of divine thought.’ E. Panofsky. Idea: A Concept in Art Theory. 1924. Reprint. Trans. J. Peake. New York: Harper and Row,1968, 38. Nietzsche made the same error, regarding Platonic dialectic as a development on Socratic rationalism (The Birth of Tragedy (1872) Section 13, in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner. Trans. W. Kaufmann. New York: Vintage, 1967, 88-89). Similarly Deleuze, who, despite noting Bergson’s ‘obsession with the pure’ and that his method of intuition was Platonic in inspiration, distinguished between Bergson and Plato on the point of the latter’s dialectic (writing that Bergson considered Platonic dialectic to be valid only in the beginning of philosophy). G. Deleuze. Bergsonism. Trans. H. Tomlinson, B. Habberjam. New York, 1988, 22, 120. Again, Stern-Gillet: ‘He (Plotinus) locates selfhood in the soul, further specifying that the inner core of our being is that ‘part’ of the soul which is capable not only of discursive thinking directed at the forms immanent in this world, but also of the intuitive understanding of intelligible realities as such.’ S. Stern-Gillet. “Plotinus and His Portrait.” The British Journal of Aesthetics 37, 3 (July 1997): 211-225, 214. In the Timaeus, Plato distinguished between the ‘rational’ and the scientific. He equated dialectic with ‘pure thought’, ‘intelligence’, and the direct apprehension of truth. Republic VI, 511b. Plotinus regarded Platonic dialectic as ‘authentic science’ which he opposed to ‘seeming-knowledge (‘sense-knowledge’)’ I,3,4, and defined it as ‘the Method, or Discipline, that brings with it the power of pronouncing with final truth upon the nature and relation of things – what each is, how it differs from others, what common quality all have, to what Kind each belongs and in what rank each stands in its Kind and whether its Being is Real-Being, and how many beings there are, and how many non-Beings to be distinguished from Beings.’ I,3,4. He correctly believed that Platonic dialectic is concerned with ‘realities’ (the Forms) and not with ‘words’ (the logic of discursive reasoning). I,3,5. For Plotinus, the hypostasis of Intellect is the site of reason. Intellect makes Soul rational by giving it a copy of what it has. The rational soul is the true man, within.

8. ‘The cultivation of Reason remained at the centre of the Platonic life-style, but non-intellectual elements were now incorporated into the life of the soul, as energising psychic forces on which Reason draws. On the other hand, it also complicated Reason’s struggle for purity. Both aspects of the divided-soul model emerge in the Phaedrus metaphor of the soul as a pair of winged horses, joined together in natural union with their charioteer. One horse is white, noble and easily guided; the other is a dark, crooked, lumbering animal, shag-eared and deaf, hardly yielding to whip and spur.’ G. Lloyd, The Man of Reason, ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ in Western Philosophy. London: Methuen, 1984, 20. In the Phaedrus, Socrates argues that conflicting desires enables the love of wisdom. ‘The later Plato…thus saw passionate love and desire as the beginning of the soul’s process of liberation through knowledge’. Ibid. 21. In the Symposium, ‘in Diotima’s version of the lover’s progress Reason does not simply shed the perturbations of passion but assimilates their energising force. Reason itself becomes a passionate faculty and a creative, productive one.’ Ibid. 22. As an example of the function of another non-discursive element, the Republic’s myth of Er exemplifies Plato’s belief in the truth-revealing power of imagination.

9. Phaedrus 247d5ff. Here Plato was referring to the moral Forms. For Plotinus, righteousness is a beautiful ‘active actuality’, like a statue in intellect.

10. ‘“On the other hand, to say that it pays to be just is to say that we ought to say and do all we can to strengthen the man within us…’”. Republic IX, 589a. On his ideal society Plato wrote ‘“Perhaps,” I said, “it is laid up as a pattern in heaven, where he who wishes can see it and found it in his own heart. But it doesn’t matter whether it exists or ever will exist”’. Republic IX, 592b. Plato believed that the Forms are sources of moral and (particularly from the perspective of my thesis) religious inspiration.

11. See, for example: Plotinus. Enneads Trans. A.H. Armstrong. In seven volumes. London: William Heinemann, 1966-1988, vol. V, 25

12. Republic VII, 514-521. Plato argued that we should develop the motion of our (non-discursive) ‘thought’ as much as possible to reflect (restore to likeness with) the motion of the universe and of divine thought. ‘Among movements, the best is that we produce in ourselves of ourselves – for it is most nearly akin to the movement of thought and of the universe…’ Timaeus 47, 89, in Timaeus and Critias. Trans. D. Lee. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977, 120, and ‘There is of course only one way to look after anything and that is to give it its proper food and motions. And the motions that are akin to the divine in us are the thoughts and revolutions of the universe. We should each therefore attend to these motions and by learning about the harmonious circuits of the universe repair the damage done at birth to the circuits in our head, and so restore understanding and what is understood to their original likeness to each other. When that is done we shall have achieved the goal set us by the gods…’ 48, 90, ibid., 121-122.

13. Armstrong described the often obscure Enneads as ‘an unsystematic presentation of a systematic philosophy’. Armstrong, op. cit., vol. I, xv

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On philosophy as a sanctuary for an isolated order of priests

Cloister garden, Domkerk, Utrecht

Cloister garden, Domkerk, Utrecht

‘This is the life of gods and of the godlike and blessed among men, liberation from the alien that besets us here, a life taking no pleasure in the things of earth, the passing of solitary to solitary.’

Plotinus, The Enneads, (Abridged), Trans., Stephen MacKenna, Penguin, London, 1991, VI, 9.11, p. 549

‘Instead of allowing reason and religion to contradict themselves, we must resolve the discord in the manner appropriate to us – namely, reconciliation in the form of philosophy. How the present day is to solve its problems must be left up to it. In philosophy itself the resolution is only partial. These lectures have attempted to offer guidance to this end.

Religion must take refuge in philosophy. For the theologians of the present day, the world is a passing away into subjective reflection because it has as its form merely the externality of contingent occurrence. But philosophy, as we have said, is also partial: it forms an isolated order of priests – a sanctuary – who are untroubled about how it goes with the world, who need not mix with it, and whose work is to preserve this possession of truth. How things turn out in the world is not our affair.’

G.W.F.Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, Vol. III, Ed., Peter C.Hodgson, Trans., R.F.Brown, P.C.Hodgson, J.M.Stewart, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2007, pp. 161-162

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Hegel on contradiction

NGC 7714: Starburst after Galaxy Collision. ‘Observations indicate that the golden ring pictured is composed of millions of older Sun-like stars that are likely co-moving with the interior bluer stars. In contrast, the bright centre of NGC 7714 appears to be undergoing a burst of new star formation.’

…it is one of the fundamental prejudices of logic as hitherto understood and of ordinary thinking, that contradiction is not so characteristically essential and immanent a determination as identity; but in fact, if it were a question of grading the two determinations and they had to be kept separate, then contradiction would have to be taken as the profounder determination and more characteristic of essence. For as against contradiction, identity is merely the determination of the simple immediate, of dead being; but contradiction is the root of all movement and vitality; it is only in so far as something has a contradiction within it that it moves, has an urge and activity.

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Science of Logic, Trans., A.V.Miller, Humanities Press, New York, 1976, 439

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Part one/to be continued…

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The development of a philosophical current – from mysticism to materialism, from God to science

Nicholas_of_Cusa 2

Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464). From a painting by Meister des Marienlebens (Master of the Life of the Virgin), located in the hospital at Kues (Germany)

‘The German Idealists showed some interest in Nicholas of Cusa but the real revival of his thought was stimulated by…Ernst Cassirer (1874-1945) who called him “the first modern thinker”…and by…Karl Jaspers.’

Dermot Moran, ‘Nicholas of Cusa and modern philosophy’, The Cambridge Companion in Renaissance Philosophy, Ed., James Hankins, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2007, 173

***

‘Who, then, can understand created being by conjoining, in created being, the absolute necessity from which it derives and the contingency without which it does not exist?’

Nicholas of Cusa, De docta ignorantia (‘On Learned Ignorance’, 1440), II, 2, 100

‘since God is Infinite Actuality, He is the cause only of actuality. But the possibility of being exists contingently. Therefore, if the possibility were absolute, on what would it be contingent? Now, the possibility results from the fact that being [which derives] from the First cannot be completely, unqualifiedly, and absolutely actuality. Therefore, the actuality is contracted through the possibility, so that it does not at all exist except in the possibility. And the possibility does not at all exist unless it is contracted through the actuality.’

Ibid.; II, 8, 137

‘since the contraction of possibility is from God and the contraction of actuality is the result of contingency, the world—which, necessarily, is contracted—is contingently finite.’

Ibid.; II, 8, 139

‘without possibility and actuality and the union of the two there is not, and cannot be, anything. For if [anything] lacked any of these, it would not exist. For how would it exist if it were not possible to exist? And how would it exist if it did not actually exist (since existence is actuality)? And if it were possible to exist but it did not exist, in what sense would it exist? (Therefore, it is necessary that there be the union of possibility and actuality.) The possibility-to-exist, actually existing, and the union of the two are not other than one another. Indeed, they are of the same essence, since they constitute only one and the same thing’

Nicholas of Cusa, De possest (‘On Actualised-Possibility’, 1460), 47

Georg_Wilhelm_Friedrich_Hegel00 2

G.W.F.Hegel (1770-1831), Anonymous

‘Hegel came forward with the hitherto quite unheard-of propositions that the accidental has a cause because it is accidental, and just as much also has no cause because it is accidental; that the accidental is necessary, that necessity determines itself as chance, and, on the other hand, this chance is rather absolute necessity. (Logik, II, Book III, 2: Reality.) Natural science has simply ignored these propositions as paradoxical trifling, as self-contradictory nonsense, and, as regards theory, has persisted on the one hand in the barrenness of thought of Wolffian metaphysics, according to which a thing is either accidental or necessary, but not both at once; or, on the other hand, in the hardly less thoughtless mechanical determinism which in words denies chance in general only to recognise it in practice in each particular case.

While natural science continued to think in this way, what did it do in the person of Darwin?

Friedrich Engels 1860

Friedrich Engels in 1860

Darwin in his epoch-making work, set out from the widest existing basis of chance. Precisely the infinite, accidental differences between individuals within a single species, differences which become accentuated until they break through the character of the species, and whose immediate causes even can be demonstrated only in extremely few cases, compelled him to question the previous basis of all regularity in biology, viz., the concept of species in its previous metaphysical rigidity and unchangeability. Without the concept of species, however, all science was nothing. All its branches needed the concept of species as basis: human anatomy and comparative anatomy – embryology, zoology, palaeontology, botany, etc., what were they without the concept of species? All their results were not only put in question but directly set aside. Chance overthrows necessity, as conceived hitherto. The previous idea of necessity breaks down. To retain it means dictatorially to impose on nature as a law a human arbitrary determination that is in contradiction to itself and to reality, it means to deny thereby all inner necessity in living nature, it means generally to proclaim the chaotic kingdom of chance to be the sole law of living nature.’

Friedrich Engels, Dialectics of Nature, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976, 217-221

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