The Tenderness of Vision

2 07 2008

Hadot Reads Plotinus

[Plotinus] gently accepted the multiple levels of our being, and all he tried to do was reduce this multiplicity as much as possible, by turning his attention away from the “composite”. For him, it was necessary that mankind learn to tolerate itself.

-Pierre Hadot, Plotinus or the Simplicity of Vision

Plotinus is without a doubt the father of mysticism in the Western world. His language, elan, and depth have been imitated by countless Christian mystics, and his ideas of knowledge as turning within into oneself continues to influence all spiritual seekers from the cloistered Carmelite nun in traditional habit to the New Age ex-hippie in a yoga class.  Plotinus can be exceptionally beautiful to read, but his is often a hollow beauty, a beauty that is inaccessible, fleeting, and of little application to daily life. Pierre Hadot, in his book on Plotinus, seeks to plant the third century Alexandrian philosopher both in heaven and on earth. He endeavors to show that, especially towards the end of his life, Plotinus was well aware of our condition as corporeal creatures, and sought always to purify his followers for the ultimate re-encounter with the ineffable One.
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