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What was the relevance of Plato's Laws to Plotinus and Gallienus?
In the Laws (c. 360 b.c.e.) Plato describes a stable system of government that is less utopian than the Republic (c. 380 b.c.e.) because it allows for private families and private property. Some commentators have claimed that Roman Emperor Gallienus was not interested in a Platonic form of government but that he liked Plotinus and agreed to the plan for a community as a favor to him. Plotinus, it was said, was mainly interested in setting up a retreat for himself and his followers.
How was Plotinus' system of thought expressed in the Enneads?
Plotinus' (205-270) system of thought was arranged in the Enneads, which was made up of six groups of nine essays: the first three groups are about the physical world and human interaction with it; the fourth group is about the soul; the fifth is about intelligence; and the sixth is about the One. Although Plotinus thought he was a faithful student of Plato, he in fact added ideas from Aristotle, the stoics, and his own philosophical imagination.
Plotinus divided the Platonic imperceptible world of forms into three parts: the One, Intelligence, and the Soul. The One is above everything that is, because it is the highest principle of being and causation. As a principle, however, the One is everything, in everything. Because the One is a unity, it has no thought or awareness, which requires a separation between thinking and the object thought. Paradoxically, the One is both completely ignorant, lacking awareness even of itself, but also, in its own way, aware of everything that it has created.
After the One, there is Intelligence, which corresponds to Plato's specific forms, taken as a totality. Intelligence has an idea for everything that exists. Intelligence also contains number, which corresponds to souls, and it contains original matter. However, there is not an endless multiplication of ideas because, as the stoics proclaimed, every so often the entire world is destroyed.
Where does the soul fit into Plotinus' system of Platonic entities?
All individual souls form one world soul, which comes after Intelligence. Some souls are disembodied, but those that are in bodies have additional "accretions." Humans, animals, and plants all have souls that are immortal, substantial (that is, they are substances) and incorporeal (not physical). Because they are incorruptible, individual souls may be reincarnated in different bodies.
The soul emanates or fulgurates from Intelligence, just as Intelligence emanates or effulgurates from the One. These emanations from the One and Intelligence neither detract from them nor are they willed. The same is true of the emanation of matter from the soul. Although the processes of emanation from the One, Intelligence, and the Soul are very natural, Plotinus (205-270) sometimes speaks of them as selfish descents to lower states. In emanating from Intelligence, the soul is actualizing a desire to rule and it becomes too attached to its body, which can lead to its deterioration. However, even when it is incarnated, the soul also lives in Intelligence.
How do we know the One?
Plotinus (205-270) taught that the soul can know the One by becoming one with it, which he called "ecstasy," "surrender," "simplicity," "touching," or "flight of the alone to the alone." This re-ascension of the soul, which has been described as a union with God, in the Christian sense, was experienced many times by Plotinus. To prepare for it, Neoplatonists practiced virtues and Platonic dialectics, which included the study of mathematics.
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