Plotinus and the development of Neoplatonism
Newell, Philip Rutherford
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The problem of the thesis is to investigate the philosophy of Plotinus with particular reference to its historical roots and its structure as a system. The task here is two-fold: an historical survey of post-Aristotelian thought and the investigation of Plotinus' thought in relation to Plato and Platonism is one aspect of the method of the thesis; an investigation of Plotinus' philosophy is the other. Philosophy after Aristotle tended toward wide eclecticism and broad interpenetration of ideas. The Academy became Skeptical, the Skeptics, Epicureans and Peripatetics re-evaluated the insights of illustrious forebears, and the Stoics worked out a history of practical thought. Almost alone in the immediate post-Aristotelian era, Poseidonius rose above epigonic speculation and approached the genius of the great thinkers. Neopythagoreanism rose from an obscure religion to a flourishing school in the period just before the advent of Christianity. Platonism returned to the spiritual vision of Plato at this time. Several Platonists of this period anticipated many of Plotinus' interpretations of Plato. Philo Judaeus platonized the Jewish tradition in allegorical expansion. In the First and Second Centuries, A.D., the demise of classical culture was accompanied by the rise of Christianity. Early Christian philosophy was almost wholly platonized as it created. The Third Century, A.D., was an era of almost total cultural decline in the Roman Empire. Moral and intellectual poverty was accompanied by a new thirst for religious certainty. Oriental religions had a vital appeal for such an age. Christianity grew rapidly in this climate. Astrology and magic became popular handmaidens of religion. In such a setting, Plotinus appeared. Plotinus' life was not outwardly extraordinary. He founded a school in Rome in 245 A.D., and died there in 270 A.D. He was widely known and revered, as a man and as a thinker. Plotinus' thought is an attempt at a monistic interpretation of Plato. All of the apparent reality is but for the formal expression of the Realm of Ideas. This realm is also the mind of the One (God). The All-Soul creates the apparent realm. Matter is uniformed potentiality, and evil results therefrom. Although man participates in material extension, his home is in the Divine, and all thinking should be directed toward his flight from his present state. Plotinus' philosophy is throughout a statement of the ultimate status of man and the universe and the means whereby man can and must rise from his present condition. The Oe is the nameless source of all Being for Plotinus. Through emanative creation, the One authors everything without itself suffering loss. Pursuit of the Good, the True and the Beautiful is a unified quest for immersion in The One. This is ecstasy. It is also the hope of life and the promise of death. Plotinus maintained his doctrinal loyalty to Plato without exception. Important differences in doctrines can be perceived, however. Nonetheless, Plotinus was a Platonist. Aristotle's criticisms of Plato are taken into account by Plotinus. Several other direct historical antecedents are observable in Plotinus' thought. Plotinus provides Greek thought with a rare and enduring width and depth of philosophical penetration. At once, he furnishes the dying pagan culture with a final great philosophical system, and he establishes a way of life and thought which early Christian culture was to use in its highest philosophical expression.
Thesis (M.A.)--Boston University
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