Hart on Plotinus

17 01 2019

Plotinus gave exquisitely refined expression to the ancient intuition that the material order is not the basis of the mental, but rather the reverse. This is not only an eminently rational intuition; it is perhaps the only truly rational picture of reality as a whole. Mind does not emerge from mindless matter, as modern philosophical fashion would have it. The suggestion that is does is both a logical impossibility and a phenomenological absurdity. Plotinus and his contemporaries understood that all the things that most essentially characterize the act of rational consciousness—its irreducible unity of apprehension, its teleological structure, the logical syntax of reasoning, and on and on—are intrinsically incompatible with, and could not logically emerge from, a material reality devoid of mind. At the same time, they could not fail to notice that there is a constant correlation between that act of rational consciousness and the intelligibility of being, a correlation that is all but unimaginable if the structure and ground of all reality were not already rational. Happily, in Plotinus’s time no one had yet ventured the essentially magical theory of perception as representation. Plotinus was absolutely correct, therefore, to attempt to understand the structure of the whole of reality by looking inward to the structure of the mind; and he was just as correct to suppose that the reciprocity between the mind and objective reality must indicate a reality simpler and more capacious than either: a primordial intelligence, Nous, and an original unity, the One, generating, sustaining, and encompassing all things. And no thinker of late antiquity pursued these matters with greater persistence, rigor, and originality than he did.

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At a Glance

18 07 2008

Even in this world, we know a great deal about people even when they are silent, through their eyes. There [i.e. in the intelligible world], however, the whole body is pure, and each person is like an eye; there is nothing hidden or fabricated, but before one person speaks to another, the latter has already understood just by looking at him.

Plotinus, as cited by Pierre Hadot

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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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Plotinus on Beauty and Form

11 06 2008


Sylvie Guillem in Kitri’s Act I Solo (rehearsal)

Like a dancer taking up different poses, the Forms – and their Beauty- are only the figures in which the fecund simplicity of a pure movement expresses itself: a movement which engenders these forms at the same time as it goes beyond them, all the while remaining within itself. The experience of grace, as we saw, is like this too: “Beauty is nothing but fixated grace” [Leonardo da Vinci]. Every form, therefore, is derivative: “Form is only the trace of that which has no form: indeed, it is the latter which engenders form…”

-Pierre Hadot, Plotinus or the Simplicity of Vision