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Thomizing Plotinus: A Critique of Professor Gerson Author(s): Donald L. Ross Source: Phronesis, Vol. 41, No. 2 (1996), pp. 197-204 Published by: BRILL Stable URL: Accessed: 15/10/2009 10:38 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you
  Thomizing Plotinus: A Critique of Professor GersonAuthor(s): Donald L. RossSource: Phronesis, Vol. 41, No. 2 (1996), pp. 197-204Published by: BRILLStable URL: Accessed: 15/10/2009 10:38 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unlessyou have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and youmay use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use.Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printedpage of such transmission.JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact  BRILL  is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Phronesis.  Thomizing Plotinus: A Critique of Professor Gerson DONALD L. ROSS Recent years have seen a welcome surge in Plotinian scholarship. One of the latest full-length presentations of Plotinus' philosophy is L. P. Gerson's Ploti- nus in the Arguments of the Philosophers series.' It is a work of impressive erudition and scholarship. However I think it is seriously flawed due to Ger- son's failure to take account of the intellectual milieu of the late Roman Em- pire. A priori one might suppose that some light could be shed on the Enneads by trying to understand Plotinus in the context of contemporary movements of thought - Gnosticism, Middle Platonism, Neopythagoreanism, Christianity but there is almost none of this in Gerson's book. Instead we have an attempt o force-fit Plotinus into the intellectual world of thirteenth entury Scholasticism. Thomas Aquinas is cited more frequently than any other thinker except Plato and Aristotle. It is this ahistorical approach hat I want to criticize in more detail in the pages that follow. To be sure, Gerson anticipates this sort of criticism. In the first place, he admits, I have kept mostly silent about some very exotic topics, such as magic, astral bodies, and guardian angels, which undoubtedly do have some place in a complete picture of Plotinus as a thinker. I do not, though, think they have a place in a philosophy book, or at any rate a contemporary philosophy book. (xvii) Below, however, we will find reason to doubt that these topics can always be disassociated from ones that do have a place in a philosophy book. As for any imputation f scholastic anachronism, Gerson argues, it is really beside the point if that language accurately elucidates what is going on in the arguments. claim that it does. (9) Below I hope to show that it doesn't. The Existence of the One Developing a suggestion by Rist,2 Gerson interprets Plotinus' arguments or the existence of the One as anticipations of the existential form of the cosmological argument or God's existence perfected by Avicenna. Although he admits that there s no straightforward, oncise cosmological argument or the existence of god in the Enneads, 12) he attributes o Plotinus the claim that the existence of anything at all whose existence is really distinct from its essence is in need of a causal explanation. 12) The One alone has an essence which is identical ' L. P. Gerson, Plotinus (London: Routledge, 1994). 2 j. M. Rist, The One of Plotinus and the God of Aristotle, Review of Metaphysics 27 (1973): 83. Phronesis 1996. Vol. XLI/2 (Accepted October 1995) 197  with its existence; thus, it is self-caused. The existence of everything else, however, is distinct from its essence, and so is in need, ultimately, of the One to explain its existence. Now all of Plotinus' arguments begin with the recognition of multiplicity n either the physical world or the Nous, and proceed to add what O'Meara n his lucid survey of Plotinus calls the Principle of Prior Simplicity, the idea that everything made up of parts, every composite thing, depends and derives in some way from what is not composite, what is simple. 3 Gerson interprets his argument as follows: Since the One is simple, there can be no distinction between essence and existence in the One, for that would make it composite. It follows that the complexity of everything other than the One is due, minimally, to the composition in it of existence and essence. Consequently, he cash value of what O'Meara calls the Principle of Prior Simplicity is that the composition of existence and essence in composite things necessitates the existence of a being in which existence and essence are the same, because only the latter can be self-caused. This interpretation, t seems to me, rests on a very weak textual foundation. For example, in the chapter Gerson quotes, V 4 [7] 1, (4) Plotinus goes on to make clear that the kind of composition he is thinking about is physical compo- sition ( for nothing simple is a body ), not the composition of existence and essence. More typically Plotinus argues from the minimal composition in the Nous between the subject and object of contemplation to the existence of a simple One.4 In neither case is Plotinus alluding to any putative distinction between existence and essence in either the Nous or the material world. Things other than the One are composite either because there is in them a distinction between nous and noeton or because they are material. Consequently Plotinus' argument or the existence of the One is not a prototype of the existential form of the cosmological argument we find in medieval Scholasticism. If Plotinus' argument s not an Avicennian cosmological argument, what is it? I am afraid that my answer will not sit very well with those who want to interpret Plotinus in terms of Scholastic categories. I see Plotinus' argument as an aesthetic response to the phenomena of inner experience. From Plotinus' discussions of beauty we learn first that an object is beautiful to the extent that it is unified,5 and second that such an object is beautiful because it imitates something still more unified.6 When one contemplates the outer world, the (imperfect) unity one finds there naturally eads one to infer the existence of a still more unified archetype the Platonic forms) which natural objects imitate.7 D ominic J. O'Meara, Plotinus: An Introduction o the Enneads Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), p. 44. 4 See, for example, VI 9 [9] 2, V 1 [10] 5, III 8 [30] 9, V 3 [491 10, 16. ' I 6 [11 2. 6 V 8 [311 1. 7 Will anyone be so sluggish in mind and so immovable that, when he sees all the beauties in the world of sense, all its good proportion and the mighty excellence of its 198  When one turns to the inner world, one finds there an even more astonishing unity: nous, noesis, and noeton are all one.8 But perfect unity is not found even here, for it is still possible to distinguish the relation of noesis and its two relata - the subject, nous, and the object, the noeton. So just as the (imperfect) unity of the outer world led us to infer the existence of the forms, so the (imperfect) unity in the inner world leads us to infer the existence of a unity that is abso- lute; and this is the One.9 Plotinus' argument for the existence of the One, therefore, s an application of the general principles of his aesthetics to the data of inner experience. There is nothing like this in the demonstrations f Scholas- tic theology. The Attributes of the One The fundamental Plotinian assertion about the One is that it is apeiron.'0 One of the connotations of apeiron in Greek philosophy is indeterminate. eras is form; to apeiron is lack of form, or indeterminacy. This connotation is rein- forced by the observation of commentators hat Plotinus generally describes the One as apeiron in respect of its dunamis. Dunamis is, of course, the Aristote- lian word for potency. But potency is also the lack of form. In saying that the One is apeiron in respect of its dunamis, therefore, Plotinus is emphasizing that he One should not be limited by any predication, s Rist observes.'2 order, and the splendor of form which is manifested n the stars, for all their remoteness, he will not thereupon think, seized with reverence, 'What wonders, and from what a source'? If he did not, he would neither have understood his world here nor seen that higher world. (II 9 [331 16; cf. V 9 [9] 2 - 3, V 8 [31] 2 - 3, III 2 [47] 3). Compare Plato, Phaedrus 249d4 - 252c2. Like Gerson, I use Armstrong's translation, which I modify here and there. 8V 3 [491 5. 9 [Nous] is not the first, but what is beyond it must exist (that to which our discussion has been leading), first of all, because multiplicity comes after unity; and Nous is a number, but the principle of number, of this kind of number oo, is that which is really one; and it is nous and noeton at one, so that it is two things at once. But if it is two, one must understand what comes before the two. What is it then? Nous only? But with every nous its noeton is coupled; if, then, it must not have its noeton coupled with it, it will not be nous. If, then it is not nous, and is going to get out beyond the two, that which comes before these two must be beyond nous. What then, prevents it from being the noeton? The fact that the noeton also is coupled with nous. If, then, it is neither nous nor noeton, what can it be? We shall assert that it is that from which Nous and the noeton with it come. (III 8 [30] 9; cf. VI 9 [9] 2, V 1 [10] 5, V 3 [49] 10, 16). As we will see in the next section, the One is, stnrctly peaking, beyond unity. 10 See VI 5 [23] 4, V 5 [32] 10- 11, VI 7 [38] 32. See A. H. Armstrong, Plotinus' Doctrine of the Infinite and Christian Thought, Downside Review 73 (1954/5): 51 - 52; J. M. Rist, Monism: Plotinus and Some Prede- cessors, Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 69 (1965): 339 - 40. 2 Rist, Monism : 340. 199
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