Plato took upon himself a synthesizing role in relation to the Pre-Socratic philosophical positions of Parmenides, Heraclitus, Materialism,
The above was largely the position adopted by Plotinus(born ca 205AD, died, ca 271AD) and communicated in his teachings some 600 years after Plato. It appears that he was also further convinced that the writings and teachings of Aristotle were sophisticated elaborations upon the Platonic position, even if there were problematic deviations such as the insistence that the forms were, in some real sense “in” the external physical world. Life forms of various kinds, for example, were on Aristotle’s account, potentialities actualizing in accordance with the principles of their kinds. For Plotinus these life forms all emanated from the oneness and goodness of Being, they revealed the “workings” of Being through the Demiurge and its divine thinking. In this arena of description and explanation, there is obviously a risk of a dualistic characterization of reality without appeal to these higher realms of Thought and Being. It is not clear whether Aristotle would have accepted all of the details of the above account but it is clear that it is not merely knowledge of the Form of the Good (as presented allegorically in the Republic) that is the prime mover in the system. Aristotle believed that one approached the oneness and goodness of Being through Theory and not allegory. He believed that is that our knowledge of 4 kinds of change, in reality, can be explained by four kinds of explanation of these changes which will appeal to three principles. This is, amongst other things, how we human souls have “access” to both the activity of the Demiurge and the oneness and goodness of Being. This account of Aristotle is perhaps an elaboration upon the Platonic insistence accepted by Plotinus that Being can only be characterized negatively, in terms of what it is not, which for many created the impression of its non-existence or even an impression that statements relating to the meaning of Being were contradictory. This impression was less likely to occur whilst the term “
Thinking of the Forms which would in logic be regarded as necessary truths implies that the negation of these truths could not be possible in this realm of meaning for the simple reason that it is not possible to think contradictions.
Brett, in his characterization of Plotinus’ commitment to what he regarded as Neo-Platonism insists that whereas Plato conceived of the oneness and goodness of Being in terms of practical human activities, Plotinus turned his back on the world of change and human activity and attempted instead to describe and explain the state of timeless meditation which all humans should strive to achieve:
“The atmosphere of Neo-Platonism is at once more impersonal and more subjective. Plato diffuses an atmosphere of practical activity, and thinks chiefly of the good life as a system of human activities. Plotinus, the founder of Neo-Platonism turns his eyes away from the world of change and action to the inner life of timeless meditation. For Plato the world that lies beyond the senses was a justification of human effort: it was primarily an answer to those who saw in life nothing but ceaseless change that made effort vain and progress only a synonym for process. For Plotinus the supersensible is the spiritual world of the mystic…… The mysticism of Plato ends with insight into the reality of life: the mysticism of Plotinus begins from that point, abstracts the reality from life and views existence as a state from which man strives to flee that he may depart from it and be with God.”
The mystic state for Brett, combined with the term “subjective”
“The change hinges upon the interpretation of Plato. If
Brett is here omitting the influence of Aristotle in the intervening period between Plato and Plotinus.This together with his projection of the prejudices of materialistic science upon the metaphysical(“first principle”) aspect of this discussion needs also to be borne in mind. The idea of
The interesting question to ask in this context is whether Plotinus subscribed to the Stoic view of deterministic causation or whether he would have regarded the Aristotelian view as more accurate. in this
Plotinus’s position is problematically characterised by Brett in the following manner:
“This Neo-Platonism is therefore no mere reproduction of Platonic doctrine. It is to a large extent an independent construction by reason of the new standpoint adopted. Plotinus has a new idea of the rational life as something distinctively subjective. Out of this arises his virtues and vices: for it leads to a deeper view of thought and at the same time makes impossible that trans-subjective use of thought on which he builds a metaphysics not unlike the vagaries of Gnosticism.”
Subjectivizing Plotinus in this way is indeed problematic. Is Brett really suggesting that Plotinus decided to ignore the great chain of being argumentation contained in both Plato and Aristotle in
Brett, as we pointed out previously ignores the resemblance of the Platonic position to that of Aristotle’s and this raises a question about the validity of categorising Plotinus as a Neo-Platonist. Perhaps, then, the litmus test of the correctness of Brett´s categorisation lies in Plotinus’ view of the soul and its relation to the external material, world. In a section entitled “The Activities of the Soul” we find the following account of sensation –the link between the external world ad the soul:
“Sensation is defined as the reception of forms in the matter which accompanies soul. It is the process by which forms are placed at the disposal of the soul. Knowledge is always an
It is not exactly clear how Brett conceives of this modification of Aristotle’s views especially in relation to the role of the senses and sensation in knowledge. Brett goes on to point out that Plotinus accepts Aristotle’s accounts of sensation, imagination and calculative reason and he also points out one crucial difference between the two accounts. Plotinus, unlike Aristotle, anticipates the role of the brain in this process. Another difference concerns the use by Plotinus of the so-called introspective method to arrive at the idea of self-consciousness lying at the intersection of the experience of objects and the unity of a soul which in its activity admits of no distinction between subject and object.
For Plato, there is no ontological difference between the changes in the world occasioned by the perceptual activity of the soul of the particularities of the world and the activity of a contemplating subject which is unchanging and universal and good in itself. The difference between an Aristotelian account and a Platonic account of the nature of the particularities in the external world is that these particularities, in the case of Plato, “participate”(in some sense) in the forms they are temporal representations of and, in the case of Aristotle, living particularities embody one form actually and other forms potentially. For Plato the particularities of the external world and the body(the different organs of the body) are in terms presented by the Republic instantiations of the “Many”, whereas thought in terms of the forms and their connectedness in the Intellect is instantiation of the “One”. The particularities are ever changing and belong to the world of Becoming existing separately in a differentiated world discriminated by sensation. the Soul, according to proof in Plotinus(Ennead 4,7,(2)) belongs on the other hand to the world of thought and Being. The body is composed of the material particulars: earth, air, fire, and water or compounds of them. Short of being organized by an internal principle or a form, these elements, even if they should occupy a shape in space, they will be merely accidentally juxtaposed have been brought into such a state by external processes. Such material will feel no sensations nor experience memory of sensations but will only be in a state of continual flux from moment to moment. If, for example, we are speaking of the juxtaposition of a number of grains of sand in a desert, this spatial unity will be disrupted by the first desert wind. Such temporal unities will not be able to contemplate the beauty of existence or the injustice of the dispersion of unity. Plotinus likens the soul to a musician and the body to the strings of a harp that would not be plucked unless in accordance with the principle of a melody that guides the movements of the fingers of the musician. These points and arguments are Platonic and Aristotelian and with the exception of Brett’s points relating to the brain, self-consciousness, and introspection, there seems to be little that is new. There is no doubt that Plotinus probably acknowledged that we humans have an awareness of what we are doing and thinking but this awareness must have taken the form of knowing what one is doing and this knowing must surely have been non-observational. Introspection, of course, has been many things to many theorists but in all its non-Cartesian forms, it has been connected to some kind of internal observation of the self(which possesses the kind of unity, principle or form that cannot be observed). The modern Scientific subjective-objective distinction is also often introduced into the debate with no awareness of its reliance on a materialistic assumption. This in its turn is anathema to the implication of Platonic and Aristotelian positions which maintain that principles on the thought end of the chain of Being are responsible for explanations of the kinds of change and activity associated with human Souls. In the metaphysical terms embraced by Plotinus, it is clear that the oneness and goodness of Being is the cause and explanation of the Intellect and its creative activity in relation to the forms. This intellect or Demiurge, in turn, is the cause or explanation of life forms such as Souls that are embodied and organized materially in various ways. The Soul is therefore obviously related in various ways to matter, the last entity in the chain of Being. In other words, material is the least organized and most chaotic of all the entities in this chain for which the oneness and goodness of Being is the source of all explanation. Science, of course, as we have noted, reverses the polarity of explanation and locates the source of description and explanation in the events of the external material world. This in spite of the fact that the very idea of what constitutes an event is in question even within the scientific community.