Tuesday, September 27, 2022

The Ultimate "One"

The Essential Plotinus
The Essential Plotinus 

“We must close our eyes and invoke a new manner of seeing, a wakefulness that is the birthright of us all, though few put it to use.”     ― Plotinus, The Essential Plotinus

Neoplatonism is credited with having its roots in the mystic philosopher Plotinus. He felt that throughout his life, he had repeatedly attained unity with the Supreme Principle, also known as the One. According to his idea, the Intellect, the Soul, and mankind were all manifestations of the One, as were all other material creatures and things. In his worldview, people should strive to achieve union (or reunion) with the One in order to escape the limitations of material reality. Plotinus was a well-known instructor who delivered lectures on this philosophy. One of his pupils, Porphyry of Tyre, eventually organized these lectures into six books with nine chapters each, which he termed Enneads. This book contains a selection from those lectures.

Plotinus’s interpretation of Platonic philosophy centers on his conception of the One, the creator-being. The One is that which makes all things possible; thus he claimed that the One is the penultimate element. It is made up of everything else, yet it remains in the purest form. Plotinus calls this state “the light before the light.” As this purest form, it cannot be described or discussed; living beings can only hope to realize that even with a sense of perfection in meditation, they must be aware that there is a greater perfection that exists.

The One is known only by what it is not; it is not comprehensible, but it is the source of both the intelligence and the soul. These three entities form a trinity that is hierarchical and to a great extent ineffable. The intelligence remind one of the forms of Plato's thought. In addition to clear connections to Platonic philosophy there are resonances with both the thought of Aristotle and the writings of Paul in the New Testament of the Christian Bible.

Plotinus' thought is paradoxical, yet through contemplation it appears to form a natural hierarchical structure that leads from the sentient world to the ultimate source of everything.


Stephen said...

I think I've encountered Plotinus before, possibly in a book on Hellenism, and the mix of Platonic philosophy and Judaism that created Christian concepts. Was there anything discussed here with a possible connection to the idea of a metaphysical trinity?

Kathy's Corner said...

Hi James, never heard of the philosopher Plotinus before but you have given us a very fine explanation of what he thought. I don't know much about Buddhism and yet I am thinking Plotinus' view of "the One" bears similarities. It's interesting how far back in history philosophers were wrestling with and coming up with answers regarding human psychology that we mistakenly think we only just started thinking about in recent times.

James said...

In our reading the emphasis was on philosophy - particularly the key concepts of "The One", "The Intelligence", and "The Soul". The overwhelming references were to several dialogues of Plato, especially the Timaeus. There was one passage that paraphrased the words of St. Paul in Acts with regard to the dependence of our being on the One. From the selections we read I did not note a connection with the trinity, but that does not preclude the possibility of such a reference elsewhere in Plotinus' work.

Your observation about "The One" seems right as it is the key concept of that which is the source of everything else, but is not moved. References in Plotinus were primarily to Plato's Timaeus and other dialogues, but this sounded similar to Aristotle's "Immovable Mover" and the thought of eastern mystics.