Platonism of The Old Academy, Middle Platonism, and Neo-Platonism
The Old academy Subsequent philosophical speculation greatly dependent upon the unwritten tradition of Plato Plato had distinguished the One and the Indefinite Dyad Through the imposition of the One on the Dyad, the Decad, and finally all numbers are generated The tetraktys is important here: 1, 2, 3, & 4 sum 10; 1 corresponds to point, 2 to line, 3 to plane, and 4 to solid The world-soul somehow was supposed to mediate between number and matter, projecting the 4 dimensions into matter and constituting the 4 elements
The Old Academy (2) Speusippus (407-339): Plato’s nephew. Placed the One above intellect. The Dyad now has to produce all things by itself. Cosmos is eternally generated. May have rejected forms. Xenocrates (396-314). Identifies the One with Nous. Probably identified the Dyad with primordial matter and thought it evil and disorderly. Said that the Forms are thoughts in the mind of the One. Was interested in cosmology. Polemo (350-267). Moved in direction of Stoicism. Emphasized self-sufficiency as key to happiness. Also emphasized “conciliation,” the virtue whereby all living beings strive to live in accordance with nature ( logos ).
The Old Academy (3) Philip of Opus. Advocated contemplation of celestial bodies as highest wisdom, and claimed the world-soul was evil. Eudoxus of Cnidus. Claimed forms reside in materiality and the pleasure is the highest good. Heraclides of Pontus. Pythagorean-inspired astronomer holding that the soul is material composed of aether, the highest element. Crantor of Solae. Commented on the Timaeus , and held that all pain (including grief) is necessary and must simply be endured.
Skepticism and the New Academy Arcesilaus (315-240). Influenced by Pyrrhonian Skepticism, and claimed that knowledge and certainty could not be obtained through sense perception. Even claimed he could not know this truth itself. Carneades (214-129). Developed an implicit notion of probability in Arcesilaus’ thought. Attacked Stoic notion of kateliptike , that there were foundational representations that were self-authenticating.
Middle Platonism (1) Philo of Larsissa. Not as skeptical as his predecessors, even though like them he denied the foundational representations of the Stoics. Said that skepticism must give way to conviction, though conviction is not absolute knowledge. Antiochus of Ascalon (130-68). The first great Middle Platonist.
Antiochus of Ascalon Using the basic approach of the Old Academy, Antiochus claimed a synthesis of Platonic, Stoic, and Peripatetic philosophy No writings survive, but we have ideas of his views from Cicero and others Claimed that matter was the substrate of the four basic elements (Peripatetic influence) Said that sun, stars, mind and gods were composed of fire (Stoic influence) Combined the demiurge of the Timaeus and the world-soul of the unwritten doctrines into the logos . Claimed that the forms were thoughts in the mind of Nous or God.
Antiochus (2) Rejects fate as the efficient cause of action, and places it with time, and matter as necessary, but not sufficient conditions for action Human choice thus becomes part of the sufficiency of action; free-will is preserved Following Xenocrates, he professes a belief in demons occupying a sub-lunar realm
Posidonius 135-51: Stoic Recognized two principles: The active principle is God and the passive one is matter Claimed that the supra-lunar realm was imperishable and the sub-lunar realm perishable (dissolving into the void, but capable of reconstitution) Human beings bridge these two realms Believed that a cosmic sympathy held all things together. Humans cannot escape the forces of God, nature and fate. Asserted the immortality of the soul and its possibility of disembodied existence
Neopythagorean Philosophy Numerous thinkers influenced by Pythagorean considerations can be seen as forming part of the texture of Middle Platonism Ocellus Lucanus (2nd century BC). Claimed that the world is eternal and thus denies the Stoic notion of periodic conflagration. Generation and decay occur only sub-lunar. One ought to avoid intercourse and alcohol. Timaeus Locrus (mid 1st c BC). Mind governs rational beings and Necessity governs bodies. Demiurge began creation of souls, but then handed them over to Nature. A soul with more “sameness” (rational principle) would have a happier fate than one with less. Astrological influences strong.
More Neopythagoreans Archytas (early first century BC). Places mind above the soul as the divine part of human beings. Claims that a place outside the cosmos contains the cosmos. Time is continuous, not discrete. Eudorus of Alexandria (1st c BC). Claimed that we should strive to be like God, and that we do this through are rational agency. Advocated a monism with a supreme principle above the Limit and Unlimited. Claimed that numbers were generated simultaneously with the world-soul. Argued that Aristotle’s categories can only apply to the physical world.
Philo of Alexandria 30 BC – 45 AD. Jewish-Hellenistic syncretism. Moses is the first sage of the Greek philosophical tradition Claims that the incorporeal God transcends all principles. This changeless God through His logos brings into being the physical universe. Logos is the sum total of divine thoughts and they hypostatization of those thoughts for physical creation; The thoughts of the Logos are logoi spermatikoi (rational seeds). Cosmos created in time, but will have no end because it is good. God creates rational souls (angels, demons), then animals, then human beings having both of these qualities. Human beings have freedom, and this is what being made in God’s image means. God helps humans to exercise freedom.
Plutarch of Chaeronia (46-122) Advocated a dualism where reason and unreason are in strife; Logos is transcendent and immanent; transcendent as thoughts in mind of God, immanent allegorically as Osiris routinely torn asunder by Typhon and reassembled by Isis. Temporal creation; One and Dyad are good and evil in way not unlike Zoroastrianism Advocated immortality of the soul; denied transmigration; held to free-will contra fatalism.
Numenius of Apamea (2nd century) Took Plato and the Pythagoreans as the twin sources of truth Spoke of a triad of Gods; 1) the good who is eternal and at rest, 2) Mind or demiurge translates the intellectual forms to the temporal order, thus constituting the cosmos, 3) World-soul contacts matter, it divides into a rational and an irrational part Human souls enter the world by the Tropic of cancer; they have a rational and irrational part; they are transmigrated and long to ascend to the divine realm Rational and irrational parts of human being in conflict; salvation happens when the soul leaves materiality
Albinus (150-197) Holds to triad of Good, Universal Intellect, and World-Soul Good emanates the other two from His mind when he thinks His own thoughts Employs apophatic language when talking of the first God Souls created through the hypostatization of thoughts in the Good Souls must conquer unreason within themselves; taught that human beings have a battle between reason and unreason within themselves; also taught reincarnation
The Platonic Underworld Hermeticism: A batch of philosophies named after an ancient sage. Divine reason descends upon darkness calling the universe into being. Like Numenious in many ways but advocates deification Gnosticism: In Basilides, the first parent emanates Nous which emanates Logos, then Phronesis, then Sophia and Dynamis; In Valentinus, all things are generated from a primal duality The Chaldaean Oracles: Claims that Father resides with Power, from which Intellect precedes. Hecate separates the intellectual and material realms. World-soul comes from Hecate, and from world-soul emanates Nature. Fate comes from Nature. Goal of existence is to purify the lower soul from Nature and fate.
Plotinus (204-270) Synthesized Christian and gnostic ideas with traditional Platonism All existence is the external self-expression of the contemplative One or Good; the divine essence is diminished in temporality; the cosmos is the self-expression of the Soul (Philo’s logos ); the soul’s experience of its own mind is the Cosmos Evil happens when the soul becomes preoccupied with its own expression. This gives rise to Nature.
Plotinus: Contemplation and Creation The One is “alone with itself” and ineffable The One generates a power that is at the same time both Nous and the object of contemplation of Nous The One thinks itself as itself; Nous thinks itself as other; this division within itself generates being, the principle of discursivity Thoughts can be regarded as considered in themselves. As such they give rise to world-soul The world-soul produces all the souls, themselves actualizations of forms The soul must come to a realization that Nature is not alien to itself; Nature is the soul’s own act
Plotinus: Nature and Personality The Soul thus contemplates nous , and in reflecting upon this contemplation produces Nature and Cosmos Individual souls immersed in Nature are thus moments of the Soul’s eternal act will know the Soul and nous by reflecting upon the results of the Soul’s act: externalized, sensible entities comprising the physical Cosmos. However, individual souls can forget that they are moments within the Soul, and identify themselves instead with the physical. Now the soul takes on characteristics that make it seem less divine.
Plotinus: Salvation and Cosmic Process T he individual soul takes on accidents because of its preoccupation with the physical; it starts thinking it has a personality; The soul must forget this personality in order to realize again its essential divinity The descent of the soul into materiality is a moment thus of the unfolding of the divine Nous (God); This descent is not evil, for it is the way of God. It is the individual soul that experiences it as evil, and this is the fault of the individual soul.
More on Salvation Plotinus disliked gnosticism, and would thus have disliked Origen’s account of evil: souls pre-exist, and when they desire to create independently of God, they fall into error and languish there until the logos becomes incarnate in Christ Plotinus accounts for the fall of the soul by pointing to the tension between pure contemplation and divisive action - - a tension constituting the natural mode of the soul’s existence The soul’s thoughts are actualized only when expressed; the soul strives towards the One (which is beyond being) through its actualization, and in becoming like the One, will become deeply like itself. Thus, the soul in identifying with the One becomes most deeply itself; it has authentic existence!
Life and Death Last words: “Strive to bring back the god in yourselves to the God in the All.” Plotinus thought salvation can only be achieved by philosophical dialectic Claims that while life is good (because it is creative autonomy), so is death (because it provides contemplative repose) At death the soul is one with Nous in some way that is beyond potentiality and actuality, beyond the one and the many, beyond the human and divine.
The Achievement of Plotinus Succeeded in synthesizing the semi-mysticism of Plato with Peripatetic and Stoic rigor so as to make intelligible human existence Like Aristotle, Plotinus was concerned with the happiness ( eudaimonia ) of the human soul, a happiness he thought could only be achieved by the intellect, by transcending the vicissitudes of temporality The angst of human existence is, for Plotinus, to be overcome through intellectual contemplation that transcends the distinction between the divine and human. For Plotinus, the perfected soul’s contemplation of itself is at the same time a contemplation of the divine itself. Plotinus’ synthesis transcends Christian and gnostic options: for him, the World-Soul must finally take its own expressions into account (including souls), and comprehend them as essential moments within the Soul itself.
Porphyry 232-305 Wrote the Isagoge , an introduction to Aristotle’s Categories Developed a doctrine of the ascent of the soul to Nous by the doing of good works Porphyry believed in a gradual process toward perfection instead of an instantaneous intellectual apprehension advocated by Plotinus Porphyry was a Christian early in life, and seems always to have held, with Origin, an objective relation and distance between the soul and Nous
Porphyry on Salvation Holds that the divine mind is different from that of the soul, but that the soul can become like this divine mind by the practice of virtue, starting with the political virtues and terminating in the exemplary virtues The saved soul will forever contemplate the One Thus Porphyry agrees with traditional Greek religion and Christianity in placing human beings in a cosmic hierarchy: the Gods are higher than us!
Iamblichus of Apamea Died about 330 Student of Porphyry Posits a supreme One beyond Plotinus’ One, this One is beyond all predication and determination Posits a cosmic All-soul, and then both a rational soul and irrational soul Claimed there were many spiritual beings between the lower souls and the intellectual order Believes thus that individual souls are lower than and “subject to” the high God, now figured as the Supreme One.
The Question of Transcendence Plotinus had assumed that the highest truth is discursive , that the dialect’s use of language can attain to it Any representation of truth by the soul in language is a representation of the One Porphyry and Iamblichus reject Plotinus’ quest for transcendence as possible only for the few Porphyry wants to practice virtue to reach the One, and Iamblichus even resorts to ritual to do so; both sanction the practice of astrology- - something rejected by Plotinus Iamblichus claims that the One transcends language
Proclus 410-485 Very rigorous thinker whose thought was the culmination of Neoplatonism Said that Nous was the culmination of the acts of the One While Plotinus had held that Mind proceeds directly from the One - - thereby making Mind prior to thought and making thought itself as the principle by which Nous is alienated from itself - - Proclus holds that the One by thought is Nous and that this movement from the unity of the One into the multiplicity of Nous and life can return into the Godhead itself
Proclus (2) Proclus starts with the Primary Monad which is One-In-Itself This Monad goes out of itself into a trinity: limit, unlimit, mixture. Thought culminates life and is the fulfillment of Being. Being is at the beginning. Being gives rise to thinking. This being at the beginning is Thought which thus thinks. In thinking, Thought which thinks is itself thought, and this is Pure Thinking - - a return of Being unto itself
Proclus (3) Thought (Being) gives rise to its “negative” which is thinking; the ‘thought it is’ produces its precise reflection (pure thinking); this reflection is a manifestation of the deity that is within the fluctuating arena of individual souls Being is eternal because it always returns to itself as Being Becoming is the process of Being moving from ‘what is’ to ‘what is not’
Pseudo-Dionysius Wrote in 5th century; clearly known by 533 Was commenting upon a Platonic tradition that had already become fixed as “ancient teaching” God is above all distinctions God transcends the means humans have to grasp God His notion of the Trinity like Proclus’