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Plotinus and India


One of the most interesting recent attempts to interpret the peculiarities of Plotinus's philosophy is that of Bréhier in his ‘La Philosophie de Plotin’(Bibl. de la Revue des Cours et Conférences, Boivin, Paris, 1928). His thesis, contained in the last four chapters of the work, is that Plotinus, instead of being simply the continuator of the Greek rationalist tradition, is the founder of modern European Idealism, or, perhaps more accurately, Pantheism. ‘Avec Plotin nous saisissons done le premier chatnon d'une tradition religieuse qui n'est pas moins puissante au fond en Occident que la tradition chretienne …’. He is the spiritual ancestor of Spinoza and Hegel. It is interesting in passing to compare this view with that of Dean Inge, for whom Plotinus is the spiritual begetter of S. Thomas Aquinas. The divergences of modern interpreters of the Plotinian metaphysic are often both amusing and suggestive.

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page 23 note 1 Warmington holds, however, on numismatic and literary evidence that during the period of Plotinus's early life and education direct sea-trade between the Empire and India had almost ceased to exist; op cit. I, ch. Ill, pp. 136–37.

page 23 note 2 The possible real and deeper Oriental influence on Stoicism is in its temper, not its intellectual content.

page 24 note 1 On the religious origins of both types of thought see Cornford, From Religion to Philosophy.

page 24 note 2 This does not mean that I think that there was no mystical, religious element in Plato's thought, which would be. absurd; but only that he stressed the subject-object distinction, not the belief that all is One Life. Both world-views are compatible with intense religious feeling.

page 25 note 1 It is possible that a Semitic strain in Zeno of Citium may have had something to do with the failure of the early Stoics to adopt a complete pantheism. The Semitic religions—star and sun worship, Judaism, Islam—all insist peculiarly uncompromisingly on the transcendence of God and the gulf between him and the world.

page 25 note 2 P. 149. But in the passage he quotes from Seneca (Ep. 92, 30)‘Totum hoc quo continemur, et unum est et deus; et socii sumus ejus et membra,’ the use of ‘socii’ suggests that the old idea of the world as an ἄθρoισμα of individuals still persisted.

page 25 note 3 On the question of Posidonius’ ‘mysticism’, see Dobson J. F., The Posidonius Myth, C.Q. 1918, p. 179. Theiler's examination of the ‘Posidonian’ element in Plotinus in Vorbereitung des Neu-Platonismus, pp. 61-end seems to me to confirm this conclusion. He shows that the doctrine of the universe as an organism goes back to Posidonius, and that Plotinus transferred this doctrine from the visible to the intelligible world; he also shows that the Neo-Platonic stress on unity as the essential principle of being and exposition of the stages of unification also goes back to Posidonius. But he does not show that this conception of organic unity was accom-panied by that application of Aristotelian psy-chology which resulted in the characteristic Plotinian doctrine of ‘spiritual interpenetration’, which is the necessary foundation of the concep-tion of the ‘infinite self’. The later Stoics, under Posidonian influence, might think of the self as an organic part of the All. But they did not identify the two. They did not say ‘The part is the whole’. Their theory did not lead them to that paradox of pantheist mysti-ism expressed by Plotinus in Enn. VI. 5. 12… καιτoι και πρ⋯τερoν ἢσθα π⋯ς ⋯λλ’ ⋯τι κι ἄλλo τι πρoσ⋯ν σoι μετ⋯ τ⋯ π⋯ν, ⋯λ⋯ττων ⋯γινoυ τῇ πρoσθ⋯κῃ. The nearest the ‘Posidonian‘ Stoics came to Plotinus's doctrine is in passages like Seneca Ep. 92. 30, Marcus Aurelius II. I (the soul ειν τ⋯ν ⋯πειριαν τo⋯ αι⋯νoς ⋯κτεινεται), but even here the full Plotinian development of the thought has not been reached; all that is said is that the human mind has the power of containing, by comprehending, the All. The final step of identifying whole and part has not been taken.

page 26 note 1 Hermetica, Vols. I and II, Introduction and (for probable date of each separate treatise of the Corpus) Commentary.

page 26 note 1 Especially in the rejection of all external means, sacraments or revelations, of union with God (cp. Bréhier, Plotin, p. 114note; Scott, (Hermetica, Introduction, p. 8).

page 27 note 1 Which often takes the form of the belief in the correlive Macrocosm and Microcosm, universe and human being.

page 28 note 1 Cp. Nock, Conversion, ch. 7, pp. 99sqq. p. 225. Halliday, Pagan Background of Early Christinity.

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The Classical Quarterly
  • ISSN: 0009-8388
  • EISSN: 1471-6844
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