Ars Vitae: The Fate of Inwardness and the Return of the Ancient Arts of Living by Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn

Elizabeth Lasch-Quinn wants to identify the problem with various contemporary approaches to life. Philosophy is the art of living, after all. It is not so much a way of thought as a way of thought that is espoused because it offers best way of life. She begins with all kinds of examples and summaries of contemporary approaches in the introduction. Then the book proceeds with a chapter on Gnosticism, Stoicism, Epicureanism, Cynicism, and finally Platonism, before drawing a conclusion that handily dismisses Aristotelianism. (Aristotelianism is, as any true Platonist will tell you, a kind of truncated Platonism. I love how neatly she does it.) She is concerned that contemporary society is in the disarray it presently manifests because we have lost the art of living, and believes the solution is for it to be informed by the best philosophy.

What is unusual about a book explaining and evaluating ancient philosophies is how much of contemporary culture of all sorts it contains. If you come to the book for the philosophy, what you have to get through in the introduction and early part of each chapter can be a chore. She describes books and films, but in a measured, scholarly way that is as lively as that approach can be expected to be, but no more. And there is always the problem that classifying movies and books according to ancient philosophy shows how much the former have to be stretched so that they can usefully be explained by the latter. Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code is easily representative of the gnostic mindset, Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000) is used for Stoicism, Ryan Murphy’s Eat Pray Love (2010) for Epicureanism (along with other cooking-oriented movies and shows), and Zach Snyders’s 300 (2006) along with an awful lot of Foucault for Cynicism. A contemporary Aristotelian (a Thomist, say) reading the book might be relieved to see there is really no movie pairing for the Peripatetic school (Babbete’s Feast springs to mind). Pairing Platonism with Nolan Ryan’s Interstellar (2014) leaves this Platonist with mixed feelings. Is the fifth dimension in the wormhole love? That is quite an allegorical reading of the film. But if you allow it, the rest flows. Why do it, why include these artifacts from the popular culture of this new millennium? Because she wants to point out how these ideas live on. This is not a book about how these ideas are distorted, though there is some of that, but about how the territory of philosophy was mapped out in ancient times. Those maps are still more reliable, and reliable enough to locate even such recent artefacts.

The strength of the book is the concise description of each approach. There are far too many takes, for example, on the gnostic phenomenon which approach it with an agenda. There is some modern phenomenon that people want to have labeled gnostic, and so the ancient phenomenon is described with that target in view so that the label can be affixed and the trigger immediately pulled. Lasch-Quinn approaches each option correctly, and her evaluation and critique of Gnosticism is informed and accurate (she has, after all, read Plotinus). So is her much briefer critique of Aristotelianism—but I may have mentioned that already. In fact, they all are, and as the chapters continue, the book makes an interesting argument for the last standing philosophy, that of Plotinus.

Unusually prominent in a book of this kind are Foucault and Plotinus. That Foucault should figure so prominently is off-putting but, in the end, necessary. Foucault as the found of endless cynicism is not that hard to accept. Lasch-Quinn is not an admirer. My only complaint here is why did she not just deal with him Aristotle-wise? As if proving that Foucault were a copious fount of cynicism were a difficult thing. But she fixes the balance by talking long and hard about the great and admirable Plotinus. This is as unusual as it is welcome. More Plotinus will do this world a world of good. If to read so much about Plotinus one has to wade through equal parts on Foucault first, I will always in the end accept this somewhat Stoical method. The result is that clear views of Platonism that distinguish it from Aristotle’s truncations, the Gnostic distortions (she approaches some of this through Albert Camus’ rejection of Harnack’s Hellenization thesis, which approach was entirely new to me), from Cynical substitutions, Stoic swerves and reductions, and from the Epicurean delusion.

If all you want to do is find out why each of the discarded approaches should be discarded as a way of life, this is your book. If beyond that you want some useful philosophical distinctions and worthwhile mental stimulation while being exposed to a nearly overwhelming variety of research in every sort of library from the most academic there is to Netflix, this is decidedly a book for you.
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Material complaint: I wish that Notre Dame had not bound this book quite the way they did. It is bound with undergraduate library consultation in view. Sturdy, heavy, unwieldy, at over 350 pages it is best read at a table. You can hold it, but when your chapters are clocking it at 50 pages, and you have philosophical content, you will find yourself wishing they had used lighter paper and bound it in covers somewhat less-than-bulletproof. Perhaps they believe most people will simply read an electronic copy.

Scorn for the Gnostics

The Gnostic attitude is one of proud self-assertion, of refusal to understand, of self-imposed ignorance. Plotinus therefore seeks, not so much to argue with the Gnostics (a waste of time, he feels), as to counteract their influence by deepening his pupils’ philosophical understanding.

-Dominic O’Meara

There were three things Plotinus, The Neoplatonist, deplored about the Gnostics. First was that they were ignorant and incoherent. It would not be going too far to say that he felt they used Plato as we Christians feel they used our Scriptures.[1] He found no Hellenism in them, no logic, no rigor, no examination, no close discussions of the technical terms of Aristotle, no wrestling with the difficulties of ancient philosophy; only irresponsible uses of chimerical suggestions. They were, in other words, procedurally and also doctrinally incorrect, positing more than his own three divine hypostases. [2] The second thing was that they were irreverent, not according to the divine what is due: they had no fear to make up absurdities and ascribe inelegancies that were patently arbitrary.[3] In short, they said what ought not to be said of the divine. The third was that they did not appreciate the order and beauty of the physical world, and so manifested their contempt of form and of higher things manifested in the lower. For Plotinus, one could not do that without turning away from the Good.[4]

[1] Arthur H. Armstrong, “Introductory Note,” Plotinus Vol 2 (Cambridge: Harvard, 1966), 220.

[2] Enneads 2.9.9.

[3] Ibid., 2.9.4-5.

[4] Ibid., 2.9.16-18.

Intelligible Reality

How did Athanasius describe the fall of man? He did it in terms anybody who has read Origen would recognize.

“For when men’s mind has no intercourse with the body, and has nothing of the latter’s desires mingled with it from outside but is entirely superior to them, being self-sufficient as it was created in the beginning, then it transcends the senses and all human things and it rises high above the world, and beholding the Word sees in him also the Father of the Word. It rejoices in contemplating him and is renewed by its desire for him, just as the holy scriptures say that the first man to be created, who was called Adam in Hebrew, had his mind fixed on God in unembarrassed frankness, and lived with the saints in contemplation of intelligible reality, which he enjoyed in that place which the holy Moses figuratively called Paradise. . . .

“3. In this way then, as has been said, did the Creator fashion the human race, and such did he with it to remain. But men, contemptuous of the better things and shrinking from their apprehension, sought rather what was closer to themselves—and what was closer to them was the body and its sensations. So they turned their minds away from intelligible reality and began to consider themselves. And by considering themselves and cleaving to the body and the other senses, deceived as it were in their own interests, they fell into selfish desires and preferred their own good to the contemplation of the divine. Wasting their time thus and being unwilling to turn away from things close at hand, they imprisoned in the pleasures of the body their souls which had become disordered and defiled by all kinds of desires, and in the end they forgot the power they had received from God in the beginning.”

Contra Gentes 2-3. Translated by R. W. Thomson.

Contra Gentes is first of a two volume work in which De Incarnatione, today the most recognizable of Athanasius’ works, is the second.

A relevant portion in Origen would be Contra Celsus 4.40, for example, and Peri Archon book 2 would also illuminate what I’m saying. I’m saying that the sort of thinking about things a world devoid of Plato finds weird and that Origen routinely did is found also in Athanasius.

What is also intriguing to anybody who does know something about Plato or Plotinus is the term ‘intelligible reality’ which is the Greek word nous, its association with the divine, the physical as a source of confusion, and the idea of the body as a prison. There is an obvious similarity. There is an advance in thought (and a need for more, obviously): the way Athanasius puts things is not how Plotinus would exactly have put things and not what Plato would have said. But the difference, however great to Origen and Athanasius, is from our perspective minor, and the relationship I think is evident.

My point is not that Athanasius was not a Christian. My point is that committed and robust 4th century Christianity found the categories of Platonism extremely congenial, greatly so. It was how they made sense of things. I don’t think we can understand these Christians without appreciating Platonism better than (in my opinion) many do (e.g. Thomas Weinandy). I certainly think the only crowd that stands to gain form the outdated notion that Greek philosophy corrupted Christian simplicity is that served by a more ambiguous and doctrinally impoverished religion.

And I think Athanasius inherited two things from Origen. With these he approached his lifelong task of figuring how to rid the church of subordinationism. Proof of that is what I’m on the trail of.

Nicaea and Its Legacy: An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology by Lewis Ayres

Nicaea and Its Legacy: An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology

12        “Pro-Nicene theologies combined both doctrinal propositions and a complex of intellectual theological strategies. Together these doctrines and the strategies within which those doctrines were intended to be read constitute a theological culture.”

20        “The greater one’s ability to place theologies within the traditions that nurtured them, the better one understands their dynamics.”

36        “Understanding this moral aspect of education helps to clarify the ambiguous feelings of many intellectual Christians toward Roman education. Roman educators wanted students to learn the right lessons from the right texts. Education in reading technique, therefore, became a contested cultural area and Christians eventually if slowly sought to adapt these teaching techniques by focusing them on Scripture.”

39        “The better we understand the process of adapting (and transforming) technical terminologies and persuasive non-Christian ideas to read the resource of the plain sense [of Scripture], the better we understand early Christian ‘theology’.”

84        One of the things that had to be overcome was that individual terminology and creeds were being used to mean different things, even though the terms were the same or similar. What was needed was a consensus of assumptions and practices within which the specific terminology and formulations could function: a theological culture.

94        “A standard connotation of the term homoousios was membership in a class” –so that it coordinated two beings, rather than identifying them. Same species.

162      “We also see here the very fluidity of credal formulation in the early fourth century becoming an open point of appeal.”

236      3 central principles for pro-Nicene theology: (1) “a clear version of the person and nature distinction, entailing the principle that whatever is predicated of the divine nature is predicated of the three persons equally and understood to be one”; (2) “clear expression that the eternal generation of the Son occurs within the unitary and incomprehensible divine being;” (3) “clear expression that the persons work inseparably.”

237      “There is no one original Nicene theology that continues unchanged through the century. Extensive influence of Athanasius’ theology on the Cappadocians is difficult to prove. Western accounts are not simply dependent on eastern translations and there was a significant and persistent non-Nicene presence in parts of the west. The theologies that constitute pro-Nicene orthodoxy are not reducible to one point of origin or to one form of expression.”

246      “Oration 29’s use of the language of ‘convergence’ (. . .) deserves further comment. Gregory’s [Nazianzen] source is probably Plotinus.” En 2.2.1 and 3.8.11

256      About Constantinople (381) “Nobody intended this creed as a replacement for Nicea, merely as a statement of Nicea’s faith. Thus, part of the reason for the lack of reference to this creed until the council of Chalcedon in 451 is the lack of intention of its framers that the Constantinople creed serve as a precise marker of orthodoxy.”

275      Nicene theology was not just the development of disconnected ideas, but of interrelated conceptions: “the Christian imaginative universe—and of a collection of intellectual practices . . .”

281      “Pro-Nicenes assume the impossibility of there being degrees of divine existence, and they assume God to be the only truly simple reality. The generation of the Son and the breathing of the Spirit thus occur within the bounds of the divine simplicity.”

287      “The language of simplicity is inseparable from the language of divine incomprehensibility and gives rise to ‘formal features’ of divine being that should govern all our speech about God.”

330      “Gregory Nazianzen also understands the basic task involved in moving towards the vision of God as involving both not thinking of God in material terms and refocusing the gaze of the mind away from its obsession with the material world.”

335      “Like almost all early Christian writers, pro-Nicenes read Scripture as a providentially ordained resource for the Christian imagination.”

353      “Indeed, Gregory [of Nyssa] again seems to be following Plotinus’ lead: both writers not only talk of a power as being intrinsic to a nature, but also metaphorically present a power as being ‘around’ a nature.” En 5.1.6

356      “In other words, articulating the pro-Nicene grammar of divinity necessarily involves articulating an account of the relationship between Creator and creation.”

366      “Ultimately, however, we will best understand this mature account when we see that it is also an articulation of the very epistemological and anthropological dynamics that we have seen shared between pro-Nicene theologians and present so clearly in Gregory of Nyssa.”

382      “The grammar of God’s simplicity, partially stemming from those Platonist engagements serves not to make God a unitary essence or to replace biblical exegesis with discussion of the three Neoplatonic hypostases. Rather, that grammar serves to enhance the explanatory power of a fully Nicene Trinitarianism in which the order of Trinitarian generation is preserved . . . Augustine’s Platonism serves the cause of good exegesis.”

389      “Claims about the metaphysical bondage of Christian thought are not simply part of modernity’s dislike of metaphysics per se: they are also closely related to post-Enlightenment thought’s suspicion of the idea that contemplation of the divine might be the goal and root of theology, wanting instead to focus Christian attention on the ‘practical’ and on the narrative of Christ’s ministry as transformative of human possibility.”

387-391           Three strategies used to dismiss historical inquiry and understanding of ancient theology.

387      1 – reading pre-modernity as a gradual anticipation of modernity (progress toward . . . us).

388      2 – classical theology unsustainable because indebted to Greek thought . . .

390      3 – presenting philosophies as self-enclosed systems. You can’t really take from them without succumbing to their assumptions.

392      “For example, both Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine adapt themes from Plotinus: neither, however, makes any extensive use of the complex discussions concerning the interrelationships between the three primary hypostases that so fascinated the latter. Rather, discussions that Plotinus would have assumed to be pertinent only to the One or Nous are drawn on and melded together to discuss the Christian Trinity.”

414      “By now it should be clear that the challenge to modern Trinitarian theologies from pro-Nicene theologies stems from a difference in theological culture: the principles of classical Trinitarian theology were sustained by a culture taken to be essential to the appropriate use and belief of them, but a theological culture very different from that shaped by the broad field of modern systematic theology.”

428      “questions about the persuasiveness of pro-Nicene theology are also questions about the nature of theology itself.”

 

Intellect

Everything is clear, altogether and to its inmost part, to everything, for light is transparent to light. Each, There [sic], has everything in itself and sees all things in every other, for all are everywhere and each and every one is all, and the glory is unbounded; for each of them is great, because even the small is great: the sun There is all stars, and each star is the sun and all the others. . . . in that world There where there is no poverty or impotence, but everything is full of life, boiling with life. Things there [sic] flow in a way from a single source, not like one particular breath or warmth, but as if there were a single quality containing in itself and preserving all qualities, sweet taste and smell and the quality of wine with all other flavours, visions of colours and all that touch perceives, all to that hearing hears, all tunes and every rhythm.

Enneads, Plotinus.

Plotinus is always concerned to keep being, life and thought very closely linked in his descriptions of Intellect, to show it as a single reality which is at once the only perfectly real being, the fullness of life, and the perfection of intuitive thought which is identical with its object.

–Armstrong, acclaimed translator of Plotinus, who also points out that the One is a kind of Form of forms (prior simplicity!).
Bright chap, Plotinus. But think about this, you are another bright chap, Origen, and Logos Christology is all you have. It is on the way to the doctrine of the Trinity, but still not the formulation necessary. You’re missing a word: the word ‘person.’ You have ‘entity’ but its semantic domain overlaps too much with ‘being’ to give you a distinction between person and being. And Logos Christology is all you have, based on Proverbs 8. Christ is the logos, the reason, the underlying order of the cosmos, God’s wisdom itself, himself. And who can deny it? Origen was condemned for philosophy. Was Justinian having himself a joke? Origen must have laughed, orange and red perfections of laughter dazzling that realm where he had been for centuries more alive.

Day 2: Soul-Numbing Friendliness

You know what I get really tired of quickly? Being friendly. I arrived this morning and went to the trouble of greeting a chap or two, and then felt I was dashed if I was going to try to think up questions the answers to which mattered to me not one fig. So I wandered inwards, away from the conglomerate, affecting interest in a bulletin board and then a chair and finally the shoes upon my feet.

That was working out well for me, when a dude I had made eye contact with several times already decided to make me the object, I suspect, of his compassion. He accosted me with a greeting, doing this unnatural but by now familiar thing where one introduces oneself. I did not get up, so in the end he sat down and there ensued a conversation.

He was dressed for hiking from what I could discern: the fulsome backpack, the hiking boots, the long sleeved shirt, and something on his head not altogether unlike some of those close fitting caps you see on chaps from the late 15th, early 16th century. Clearly a hiker. He wants to be translator when he grows up, I found, and this gave me a line of inquiry. Since I had given up on friendliness, I could pursue it without much concern for coming across as overly aggressive or skeptical.

So I questioned his desire, questioned the need, questioned the procedure, questioned everything about it I could, testing, as it were, his presuppositions in order to find any inconsistency, any gaps in logic, any unexposed assumptions. In the end I had, in effect, a statement of my argument, the fair statement of my opponent’s position, a generous and charitable critique, and the concluding Gospel alternative. Just kidding, but that’s something I learned today: that’s how they want apologetics papers to be written.

One of the things we did was look at a bit of apologetic writing that was an example of good writing. Only my group, including the hiker, did not have it abundantly clear that it was a good example and understood it to be in fact a bad example. My hiking friend tore it to shreds and then raised his hand and stated the reasons it was bad to the whole auditorium. Mom–the woman in charge of the session–gently corrected, and reversed some of his decidedly good judgments. Other’s began to push back, ambiguity was politely conceded all around.

We broke out into workshops after that. In the one I elected I actually had to evaluate an argument were the bad guy used Plato to back up an argument against the existence of God, and so in my paper I included a section where not only a Gospel alternative was offered, but also what Plato would have said to such a traducement: a pagan philosophical alternative, I guess. There may have been too much Plotinus in it for a good apologetics paper, I think. I don’t know how presuppositional apologetics handles the nuances of a pagan philosophical alternative yet.

We did get a free lunch out of it, and I am not ungrateful. I found that after trying my hand at apologetics and finding it so congenial to Plotinus, I was ready to be fullsome and friendly and ran down all my reserves then and there. The thing is, however, that tonight they’re having a picnic–serving Chick Fil-A. My wife is making me go to it, and it is hard cheese on me because it is going to be more soul-numbing friendliness.

Flux

As you read Plotinos an image forms of the aboriginal enchanter: Herakleitos. Herakleitos who went down to the river and stared at it, and saw the water passing along and wondered what a river was, and it became a metaphor, it seems, of the visible world. Where in flux is permanence? Permanence is the divine, the real, what matters, and the flux is illusion–and matter the substance of illusion. So believed Plotinos, who followed after Plato.

Plotinos understood that timeless idea Greece gave the world: Hellenism. He appropriated its rigor of intellect, its certainty of the primordial reality of form, the arithmetical mysticism of Pythagoras, the clarity and light and applied it all to personal conversion: return to God. He was a philosopher of spirituality.

Imagine with him: look up to the heavens and in the deep heavens seeing the light and splendor shinning through those distant bodies. It is the glow of divinity, a gesture at the grandeur and splendor of World-Soul, of Nature, the spiritual reality apprehended beyond the world of perception. This is the realm of Zeus. Above Zeus and the endless motion of Soul which is time, above one thing coming after another and discursive reason is the realm of the Eternal, of Kronos, of Contemplation. It is a geometric, clear, abstract and unchanging world of Mind, where thinker and thought are one, but the object of though is still a higher and absolutely singular. Depth, beyond depth, beyond depth. Height, upon height, upon height.

There is a lot of poetry in that! Theologically, the One of Plotinos is beyond consciousness and personally indifferent, from what I can tell. The One, the Good, is generously available, so that one can ascend in contemplation and view it, achieving in that way a totality of permanent Being in a body of higher substance, but not in personal relationship. He always spoke in terms of sameness and otherness, and I don’t think they would have had the subject and object terminology. Could one contemplate the One as subject and subject? I do not think so, though I hesitate to limit in any way the possibilities available to the Great Plotinos. The One is available and superabundantly radiates from itself, and is beyond activity and even beyond being, and that is all. For one there is an achievement after which there is no growth, no development, only eternal perfection, endless abundant, blessed contemplation. It is Oriental, isn’t it? An Oriental spirituality done with absolute Hellenic reason. Also, it is a philosophy of absolute reverence, and there is perhaps its limitation: reverence cannot assume all of what divinity reveals. I mean that Plotinus would have found impious to assume the One, though immanent and transcendent both, in any way condescending or personal. A tremendous source for poetry, but not enough for the consolation of religion. It was for someone not devoted reverently to Neoplatonism but willing to use it for another reverence (a platonical irreverence) such as St. Augustine to understand in that God was more deep inside himself than he was, and was a subject he could turn to, rather than just otherness or beyond otherness . . . or is that subject? The otherness beyond otherness is when object becomes responding subject. Can it be? Perhaps that’s what Plotinos meant by his language? I do not know. But you see how useful his language turns out to be.

In a Fashion Beyond Words, the Simplicity of Jesus Became Something Complex

Who speaks in this manner? Why would anybody describe the movement of the incarnation as one from simplicity to complexity? Are these the words of a theologian of the late 4th or early 5th century, exhausted by study, thought and The Debate, irritated, who when throwing up his hands, complaining avers nevertheless the orthodox position? I can’t describe it, I wish it weren’t so complicated, it certainly was easier before the New Testament, but there it is.

The Dionysian explanation of the incarnation will strike anybody as unusual or meaningless, unless that person already understands two Neoplatonic concepts. The first is that in Neoplatonic thought, the source of all being is a radical simplicity so essentially unified it is called the One. It is not even conscious, because that would require it to be more than One. It does not contain the forms, because then it would have itself plus them (which equals two) and not be One; yes, even if it only thought them it would be two: a thinking subject requires an object of thought. (Remember, at this high level of being, everything lives: the Forms are Intelligences living within living Intellect.) But the One must be absolutely coherent: it is one alone, anterior to everything, the source of all whom we know as the Good. How then is there diversity? by emanation from this superabundance–which is not a radical negation but a radical affirmation: hence, the Good–lesser things come into being: a mind, Intellect or Nous, which contemplates the One and receives as object of contemplation within itself the undivided Forms. That is the first thing, the second thing to understand is how opposites are reconciled at a higher level. Neoplatonists believed that opposites such as black and white are reconciled in a prior concept, and are distinguished by virtue of descending from that higher into a lower part. What reconciles black and white? Color, would be an example, there the two are joined. For Plotinus, that was the essential way things ascended and descended through his three tiers of divine hypostases to the fourth and ephemeral tier of the physical world: simplicity and coherence above, complexity degenerating eventually to absolute incoherence below. Now, with this in mind, here is the Dionysian explanation of the incarnation: “In a fashion beyond words, the simplicity of Jesus became something complex.” Why would anybody use that terminology to describe the incarnation unless he were already thinking in Neoplatonic categories? If somebody had gone to Plotinus and asked him about the incarnation, he would have scoffed, but had he been asked to grant it for the sake for argument, what terms would he have used? Simplicity would have to descend to greater complexity: those are the polarities of Neoplatonic metaphysics.

Questions for the Great Plotinus

1 What is the One?

The One is the Good, the superessential and the superabundant. The One is one because of the rule of Prior Simplicity. Everything is resolved into a greater coherence, and the greatest coherence is absolute and perfect, complete, beautiful oneness. All being derives from the One, all good.

2 What is Nous?

Nous is Intellect or Divine Intellect, or Mind. It is the real of Real Being, being first of all Beings and the second divine hypostasis. When that which emanates from the superessential One returns in proper contemplation to the One, the Forms, the Archetypes are eternally generated as a coherent image of the One, for Divine Intellect contemplates the One, and in its mind this contemplated object is the Forms, also mighty beings. They do not exist in Mind as a set, full of diversity and variety, but are the one coherent Reason for all diversity and variety.

3 What is World Soul?

Soul, or World Soul, or the All is the third divine hypostasis and the last, and weakest. So abundant is Nous that from it also emanates that which turns back and in contemplation of the Intellectual Form generates the undivided but distinguishable forms. World Soul is Nature, in its lower parts, and nourishes the world of objects where when form is joined to matter, forms become distinct, separate. From World Soul emanates a dream, as it were a mirror, and in this mirror are reflected the forms that it generates by contemplating Divine Intellect.

4 What are Forms?

Forms exist at each level except the One, which is absolutely one and nothing else. The Forms of Intellect result from the Intellectual matter, which emanates from the One, as it turns in contemplation. They are a generated compound of intellectual matter and One. World Soul, which is the spiritual matter emanating from Intellect, beholds these forms and generates in turn forms, as the Forms of Intellect meet it, creating the substance of soul. Forms are the principle of intelligible coherence in a thing. We must think of them according to their substance, which is not physical, has none of the degenerate separations that create space about it. We must rise in abstraction to their contemplation, and by moving our consciousness higher in World Soul, a part of which our souls are, distinguished from it by being united to matter in body, we must contemplate the forms of Intellect, and thereby rise to contemplate the One. This is to have the intellectual satisfaction of understanding at such a high level that everything below it is intuitively graspable and to have the wisdom of knowing the what is good.

5 What is better, the acorn or the oak?

The acorn, for it contains the principle of what follows and has not degenerated into a loss of simplicity and union by acquiring more substance and growing.

6 What are the two movements?

There is the movement away and the movement back, and that is all. The first is downward for it is away from its source, and it is a degradation. The second is upward for it is back, and it is ennobling. The second is contemplation, the first privation. Matter, being the last movement away, is absolute privation and thus it is metaphysical evil. It is the disposition utterly away from the Good, how than can it be anything but evil? When matter receives form then you have shapes and qualities and objects, and in so far as matter participates in Form it returns and rises and it is a good. But it is an image in a mirror, which is dreamed by World Soul, and remember, it is a mirror that does not exist. We must not be seduced downward, but return in contemplation of the higher, not the lower.

8 What is the Self?

Divisions within Soul produce the various souls which are the forms of human being. Just as there is a higher and a lower World Soul, in keeping with the two motions, there are higher and lower portions of each human soul. The higher is concerned with gazing along with World Soul, of which it always remains a part, at Nous. The lower nourishes corporeal substance, and ministers to the body that which comes from the realm of Intellect: Form. Our consciousness, now, slides between the two polarities of the lower and higher soul. It is dragged down by the appetites and passions, which it ought to leave to run with as little attention as possible, and not be trapped, distracted or much less habituated to the corporeal demands for satisfaction. Instead it should detach itself from the lower soul and seek the higher, closer to the World Soul of which it is a part, directing its attention toward higher things: Contemplation of the Nous. This is virtue, as attention to the lower is vice.

9 What is matter?

Matter is that which receives forms. World Soul’s power is weakness, and its emanation is weak: nothing can come from it, for it is essential nothingness. Matter is primal evil in that it is impassible, neither desiring nor responding to form, but being that last movement away which is also nothing. Without form you have no shape, no color, no quality, nothing. That which receives form, receives these things, and that we call matter. When matter receives form we have the world of our senses, but if we propose that the forms must inform matter and provide everything, including substance, then we must say that matter is nothing, absolute privation, primal evil.

10 What is wrong with the Gnostics?

There are three things. First is that they are ignorant and incoherent. I would say they do to the divine Plato what Christians say they do to their Scriptures. There is no Hellenism in them, no logic, no rigor, no examination, no close discussions of the technical terms of Aristotle, no wrestling with the difficulties of ancient philosophy but only irresponsible uses of chimerical suggestions. They are doctrinally incorrect, for there are three divine hypostases, and no more. The second thing is that they are irreverent. They do not accord to the divine what is due to it: they have no fear to make up absurdities and ascribe inelegancies that are completely arbitrary. They say what ought not to be said. The third is that they do not appreciate the order and beauty of the physical world, and so manifest their contempt of Form and the higher which is manifested in the lower. You can’t do that without turning on the Good. The whole thing is rubbish.

11 What is a good Platonic joke?

You know that Platonists believe in transmigration of the soul. We say that the greatest punishment for the bad is to be reincarnated as an oyster, do you know why?

12 Why?

Because an oyster lives in a cave of his own making.

Plotinus