Δευτέρα, 2 Δεκεμβρίου 2013

The Philosophy of Plotinos. His life, times, and Philosophy By Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie

The Philosophy of Plotinos. His life, times, and Philosophy.
Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie

Copyright, 1910, by Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie.


1. Ammonius Sakkas. The founder of Neo-Platonism was Ammonius Sakkas, of Alexandria. According to Porhpyry and Theodoret, he was the son of Christian parents of humble circumstances, and became a laborer. Soon however he changed his occupation and devoted himself to philosophy. He abandoned Christianity, as he could not approve of Christian hostility to science and speculations. Later in life, he taught philosophy with great success, teaching orally, and demanding a promise from his students to keep his doctrines secret. Among his students were the two Origens, Herennius and Plotinos. 
We only know of his doctrines that he discovered the agreement of Aristotle with Plato, a remark supported by a statement of his doctrines by his disciple Plotinos, who said that he felt himself no more bound by his promise after the heathen Origen and Herennius had broken theirs.

2. Plotinos. Plotinos always remained silent about his birth day and place of birth; he was almost ashamed of having a body, and would not sit for a picture. Yet is is supposed on good authority that he must have been born in 204 or 205 A. D., in Lycopolis, in Egypt. In his twenty-eighth year he became the pupil of Ammonius Sakkas and was so carried away with the greatness of his teacher that he is reported to have said 'Touton Ezetoun' 'this is the man for me!'
From the time he first met him he never left his side until the death of Ammonius Sakkas broke up their mutual intercourse, which had now lasted eleven years Feeling that he had no other ties to bind him to Alexandria, he determined to go to Persia and India, to learn the wisdom of the East. To accomplish this purpose he had attached himself to the army of Gordian which was destined to a campaign in the East; but when the army broke up, he was forced to return with it to Rome, where he settled as a teacher of philosophy, holding consultations and successfully managing his school till in his sixty-sixth year he died (270 A. D.)
As a teacher his success was great, instructing poor as well as rich The Emperor Gallienus and the Empress Salonma, among others, attended his lectures. This success was due not only to his wisdom but also to his personal influence and power.
Above all, he owed much of it to his genuineness and spirituality. During the time that Porphyry lived with him he enjoyed four times the ecstasy which he had preached to others as being the height of human attainment.
According to his wish, Porphyry collected and edited his writings. These consisted of twenty-one earlier, and thirty-three later short essays on various topics. Porphyry gathered these into groups of nine, which he called Enneads. The order in which he placed them was the chronological order of the times when they were written, so that they are not arranged according to the subjects discussed. The style of Plotonis is marred by continual repetitions and very many obscurities of thought and diction, so that a systematic representation of his doctrines is no easy task.
As Plotinos considered himself a disciple of Ammonius Sakkas, we may for practical purposes assume that his writings represent the thought of his Master on all important points.

3. Relation to Christianity. The system of Plotinos is so beautiful and so coherent that Christian writers have not been slow to ascribe all that is good in it to the early Christian training of Ammonius Sakkas. How little such a claim means can be under stood when we recollect that Clement of Alexandria accused Homer and Plato of
stealing their best thoughts from the Jewish prophets. Consequently such an explanation of the good elements of Neo-Platonism would not merit any answer if it were not that by such a claim (which is still made to-day) the value of non-Christian philosophy is seriously impaired, and Christianity is credited with more than it deserves.
In the first place, Ammonius Sakkas was a mere child when Christian, and left Christianity as soon as he became able to think for himself. Besides, Eusebius (2) distinctly states that he left Christianity on account of its hostility to science and philosophy, the very subject of dispute; and it is well known that converts become the bitterest enemies of their former beliefs.
Would it be likely that Ammonius Sakkas would permit himself to be influenced by Christianity in the very thing ion account of which he left it?
Not a single word or similarity of expression in the Enneads betrays any acquaintance with the Christian formulations, nor does Plotinos anywhere betray that his doctrines had arisen in opposition to or imitation of Christianity; he utterly ignores it.
And the reason of this is plain; for the Christian usually be longed to the lowest and most unphilosophic classes, with a few exceptions; and it seems Almost amusing to think that a man so deeply read in philosophy as Plotinos or Ammonius Sakkas were should borrow all their best doctrines from eminently unphilosophic sources.
Further, if we examine the state of contemporary Christian philosophy we will see that it is almost without exception a stereotyped form of Philonism adapted to the New Testament.
There are no original conceptions, and no learning; Clements quotations from Greek literature being mostly made up at second hand from cheap anthologies (8).
How then could this barren source furnish the acknowledged rich results of NeoPlatonism?
Besides, none can read the Enneads without seeing that Plotinios is thoroughly at home in all Greek philosophy, devoting whole books to the refutation of Aristotles categories and other tenets, so that we are certain he took all his philosophic material at first hand from philosophy itself.
All this, however, is only negative proof; positive proof is also at hand. The doctrines of Plotinos do not in any case agree with the Christian doctrines, and show no derivation from them. The Christian conception of the Trinity, in its orthodox form, is that all three Persons are co-equal in rank, and all three are separate from the world, and as far from it the one as the other. The Triad of intelligible beings that may be found in Plotinos is God, the Mind, and individual Souls, each hierarchically subordinated to the other, and including the world as physical being in the latter term. Moreover, the whole system of Plotinos is founded on the thought of development of all things frim God as emanations; and anybody who has read the Polemic of Irenaeus against what he calls the ''decay'' of God will not be likely to say that the system of Plotinos had any connection at all with Christian dogma, especially since Athanasius insisted so strenuously on the difference between ''made''  and ''begotten'' which does not exist in the Plotinic Cosmology.
Besides all this, we can account for almost every dogma of Plotinos in earlier Greek philosophy, as he himself acknowledges.
Nor need the moral earnestness, which is found in Plotinos and which is found in Plato or Aristotle, point to a Christian origin any more than that of the Stoics, from which without a doubt, Plotinos and Ammonius Sakkas drew their inspiration.
This brings us to the relation of Plotinos to Philo. That Plotinos had read the works of Philo, is entirely probable, although the chaotic eclecticism and syncretism of the latter must have rendered his works repulsive to any but Jews or Christians who were unacquainted with the sources from which Philo drew all that was valuable in his interpretation of the Scriptures. 
Yet it is very improbable that the relation between the two was morethan that both of them drew their inspiration from the same source; for it would have been a great deal easier for the philosophic and consistent Plotinos to draw his material from theoriginal sources, Stoic and otherwise, than to go to a Jewish adaptation and a chaotic eclecticist for what could be gotten otherwise with much less trouble. And as a matter of fact, that which separates Plotinos,
(his emanational explanation of the derivation of Matter from God), from Christianity, separates him also from Philo, who never explained that relation. Besides, the language and terminology of the two differ too much to suppose any close relation between them. The Logos of Philo is with Plotinos Nous; and with the latter we cannot find the former s important distinction between the Spoken and Unspoken Word.

4. The Recognition of the Authority of Plato. We said above that we could account for all of Plotinos s great conceptions in earlier Greek philosophy. Before, however, making this statement good, we must notice that whether we think so or not, it is certain that Plotinos either thought so, or affected to think so in every work of his now extant.
Plotinos relies upon the authority of Plato in every small detail (4). He refers to him as ''the philosopher'', or even with a mere he says (5) or even without any sign of quotation as in the famous paragraph on the transmigration of souls which we shall see later (6). If his opinion clashes with that of Plato, he will resort to what to us seems a misinterpretation in order to save Plato from censure (7). He considers that he is reestablishing pure Platonism, and desires to be called a Platonist; if the issue is raised, he will refuse to depart from Plato s norm.
Other philosophers are often referred to merely as ''the ancients'' or ''the ancient and blessed philosophers'' , ''Hoi archaioi'' or ''Hoi archaioi kai makarioi philosophoi'' (8). He believes that his teaching concerning the Good, the Mind, and the Soul is Platonic (9) ; but he finds it also in Parmenides, Herakleitos, Anaxagoras and
Empedokles; Anaxagoras is said to be he who through age attained accuracy. He believes (10) that some of the ancients must have known the truth; the only question remains which of them knew it most fully. Consequently, he feels at liberty to criticise them, as he does Empedokles and Anaxagoras (11).
Worthy of notice is the fact that he claims that the very marrow of his system is the same as that of Sokrates and Plato: ''know thyself'', ''Gnothi Seauton'' He says: ''Let us obey the command of the Deity, and learn to know ourselves'' (12) This fact might be used to prove that there existed such a thing as an esoteric Platonic doctrine in which the moral element was the prevailing one and which was
handed down under oath of secrecy. 
Many of the Church Fathers look upon this maxim as sufficient guide to salvation and it is remarkable how it meets us everywhere under the same name of being Platonic. At any rate it is certain that the problems of Cosmology, Physics, Politics, and Sociology which were the main topics of exoteric Greek philosophy, are to Plotinos important only inasmuch as they are deductions from his doctrine of the welfare of the soul.

5. Relation to Greek Philosophy. To Aristotle Plotinos is in debted partially for his conception of development and emanation; for the transcendence of God, for his psychology, and out lines or suggestions of cosmology.
To Plato, Plotinos owes his Nous (with the Platonic name of God) his conception of the Earth-Soul, his categories, and al most all his details, as well as the transmigration and destiny of souls.
To the Stoics Plotinos is indebted for his exclusive moral interest, and possibly some touches of his conception of the Earth-Soul, though this is very uncertain indeed, in spite of the opinion of Erdmann.
To the Emanationist doctrines of writers such as the inditer of ''Hermetica,'' Plotinos owes his conception of Emanation, which completed and inter-connected the various stages of the Aristotelian conception of development. To this source, perhaps, Plotinos owes his mysticism, and burning spirituality.
Thus we see how much of his system Plotinos owes to former philosophy; and we need not scruple to admit his claim that he is not an inventor of bold originality, but a high-souled philosopher who combined into one system whatever was of value in philosophy before his time. Thus, as Neo-Platonism is the last phase of Greek philosophy, we may look upon his system as that which represents the philosophy of Greece in its noblest and most perfect proportions.

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