THE ESSENTIAL PLOTINUS (translated by ELMER O’BRIEN)

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As I read ‘The Essential Plotinus’ I wondered how will this book be relevant in terms of my current studies. The first chapter of this book, ‘Beauty’, interested me greatly. Plotinus firstly stated that “chiefly beauty is visual”. Furthermore, Plotinus had later questioned the nature of the kinds of ‘beauty’, especially ‘bodily beauty’. He posited that ‘bodily beauty’ cannot be beautiful within itself, nevertheless, something that is added to ‘bodily beauty’ would make it ‘beautiful’. Moreover, Plotinus defines that a comprehension of ‘beauty’ can only be acknowledged, because of one’s soul.

THE SOUL

The idea of soul being a source of knowledge was firstly posited in Plato’s ‘Timeaus’. Thus, I came to a conclusion that Plotinus had to be influenced by Plato’s philosophy.

In ‘Timaeus’, Plato introduced his ‘Theory of Two Worlds’ with a concept of ‘dualism’. Through ‘dualism’ Plato had explained that a body is separated from a mind (or a soul). The ‘Theory of Two Worlds’ explained ‘dualism’ through the ‘Theory of Forms’. The ‘Theory of Forms’ was best-explained through, ‘The Cave Allegory’ in Plato’s magnum opus ‘Republic’.

‘The Cave Allegory’ was a myth situated in a cave. Within the cave, there were prisoners who were chained. In front of them, there was a wall; the wall was the only thing that they could see. Behind the prisoners, there was a fire; behind the fire was a bridge. Through the bridge, each day people and animals were passing by. However, the prisoners could only see shadows of these travellers. For the prisoners, the shadows were real. Furthermore, Plato had added a new scenario, one of the prisoners had been freed from the chains. Plato implied that the prisoner would firstly turn around to see these travellers, but one would be blinded by the intensity of the fire’s light. Eventually, one’s vision would adapt to the light and thus one could see the bridge with the travellers in their ‘true’ bodily forms. This, at first, could be questionable by one, however ultimately it could become a part of one’s reality. Then, the prisoner would depart from the cave in his search of ‘truth’. Again, when one came out of the cave the vividness of the sunlight would blind them. And eventually when adapted to the sunlight, one could begin to see grass, trees, lakes, sky and at the end the source of the light, the sun. Furthermore, one would question whether or not the surroundings that one sees could be the ‘truth’ that one searches for. Plato implied that one would realise that the surroundings were the ‘truth’. Furthermore, Plato argued that because of one’s discovery, one would want to share his experience (or his ‘truth’) with other prisoners. Nevertheless, the prisoners would not believe in the discovery. They would call him ‘blind’.

Overall, the allegory helps to comprehend the ‘Theory of Forms’ as the theory was based on the idea of ‘Two Worlds’ (the cave and the world outside of the cave) as Plato posited. Furthermore, the cave’s concept of reality was only shadows of perfection; as shadows of the travellers were not the ‘truth’ regarding the travellers. Thus, Plato argued that an ‘Unchanging World’ is the world with perfect objects or forms.

Also, Plotinus stated in the book, “We therefore suggest that the soul, being what it is related to the reality above it…” This quotation has an association with Plato’s ‘Two World Theory’. The theory explained that a soul was an unchanging form, whereas a bodily form, such as, a human body, was a changing form. Moreover, when a soul began its cycle, it was firstly in the ‘Unchanging World’ (the ‘Realm of Forms’) and it knew it had a deep comprehension regarding it’s inherent perfection. And therefore Plato suggested that when a soul entered a body, it forgot all knowledge that it had previously. Yet, a soul has an idea of ‘perfect forms’. Lastly, Plato stated when a body dies, a soul comes back to the ‘Realm of Forms’ and it will enter another body and this cycle is on-going.

“The beauty, then, of bodily forms comes about in this way – from communion with the intelligible realm.” Therefore, Plotinus used Plato’s idea of a soul to determine what ‘beauty’ is.

‘THE PEOPLE’

“All souls, we can say, feel it, but souls that are apt for love feel it especially… Not all are stung sharply by it. Only they whom we call lovers ever are.” The quotation sums up Plotinus’ idea that lovers are ‘the people’ who most profoundly comprehend ‘beauty’. This conveys that Plotinus paraphrased Plato’s ‘Republic’ and the idea of ‘the people’ who could rule in ‘Ancient Greece’. Plato argued that philosophers were ‘the people’, as they would have the widest range of knowledge regarding how to rule efficiently.

DEMIURGE

I have found that the idea of a ‘soul’ for Plotinus was essential. He stated, “Adopting the same method in regard to the cosmos, one will once more end up with an intelligence and think it the true maker and demiurge. The matter, then, is fire, water, earth, and air. Formation comes from yet another being, The Soul.” Within the first quotation, Plotinus’ usage of a concept of ‘demiruge’ (Plato’s idea of monomorphic God) would convey that Plotinus knowledge regarding Plato was profound.

Demiurge is a concept of a God who had not created the universe ex nihilo; a Platonic God who organised the universe from substances and atoms, that ‘The One’ was provided with. Overall, Plotinus used Plato’s ‘demiurge’ to posit and introduce his theories.

CONCLUSION

Overall, the book, ‘The Essential Plotinus’ is a book regarding Plotinus’ perspective on the world. However, from my subjective perspective, it seems that understanding the basis of Western Philosophy, which was provided by Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, are essential to comprehend other philosophers’ theories. Throughout the book, the influences have varied, but Plato’s influence upon Plotinus’ work seems to the most prevalent within the book, ‘The Essential Plotinus’.

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