Plotinus on the „experience of thought“

A reading of Ennead V 5, 7 and 8.

I

Among other things, Plotinus is known for his devotion to spiritual insight. This might sound esoteric to modern ears and unscientific or, far worse, outdated – at least as an object of serious scholarly attention. But that’s not what it actually means. Plotinus’ writings are after all parts of an endeavour that aims at truth. However, truth needs to be understood as the grasp of a reality that indeed deserves its name, i.e. as true being in the sense of what transcends the to and fro of everyday experiences or the floating impressions of our immediate consciousness. This reality has been conceived of by the ancient Greeks, from Parmenides onwards, as the opposite of normal human experience. It rather forms the realm of the gods, of eternal beings and principles that are mostly hidden from our mundane eyes and ways. However, this concealed truth is what alone guarantees the truth of the human logos – of our speech, our understanding, and our orientation in the world.[1]cf. Parmenides, B1: 26 – 32. In this passage at the end of Parmenides’ description of his ascent, the goddess proclaims a way that lies far off every human conduct or experiences; this way, rather, follows the path of themis and dikê, i.e. divine law and just necessity. In B2 the goddess gives a fuller account of this path and claims that there is only one path of true conviction, the path of “it is” – or being. Only this path allows for understanding, though and speech and, hence, orientation via thinking. Hence, for Plotinus “insight” into truth and “spiritual” awareness are not distinct things.

We also have to think of “spirituality” in a different way. For Plotinus, it simply means the theoretical and practical effort to withdraw from the world of action (praxis) and constant becoming (genesis) in order to reach out for the truth Parmenides was talking about. To his mind (and the minds of many ancient thinkers[2]cf. Michelle Foucault, The Hermeneutics of the Subject, 1982.) grasping the truths presupposes not only serious effort, but rather a fundamental change in what a subject in itself is. He calls this process of becoming the adequate subject of truth “purification”.[3]cf. Plotinus, Ennead I 2, 3 – 4. Although his writings clearly address issues of the current scientific discourses of his time, they also aim at this kind of transformation during which we, as his readers, turn away from the bodily world around us and become aware of our own, spiritual activity in virtue of which we are linked to the proper kind of knowledge – the knowledge that knows true reality. Plotinus calls this kind of knowing “thought” (noêsis) and this kind of knowledge “intellect” (nous).

What is most important to him, therefore, is to show his readers that the immediate consciousness of things – i.e. sense-perception – is not an adequate guide to truth. Given all this, it might seem strange to postulate an “experience of thought” in Plotinus. In the ancient traditions of Aristotelianism and Platonism alike, experience (empeiria), as a mode of relating to the world, is restricted to empirical representation, and is related to undergoing certain material changes. In this way, having experiences rather connects us to becoming and sense-perception – and not to truth and thought which exist purely intelligibly, i.e. non-empirically and unchangingly. Thus understood, “thought” or “spiritual thought” are only approximations to the Greek terms noêsis, noein or nous. Hence, I shall refer to this mode of thinking also as “intellection” or simply call it by the most common Greek notion in Plotinus for this activity, noêsis. Nevertheless, this specific activity is connected to what we might call rather loosely “thinking”. For since Aristotle, intellection refers to the grasp of essences and, hence, to a mode of thinking that guides other intellectual enterprises. We can roughly compare it to a grasp of the entirety of “scientific knowing” in its fullest sense, i.e. to knowledge that may be seen as a complete paradigm for any successful act of the mind that purports truth. Hence, Plotinus frequently highlights that noêsis is the actuality of Intellect (nous) itself – that it is nothing else than the veridic grasp of true being in the sense just outlined. Likewise, in Aristotle’s Metaphysics the term empeiria denotes a particular stage of our epistemic make-up that, starting from sensual impressions, leads to art and science.[4]cf. Aristotle, Metaphysics, 980b28ff. In this context, “experiences” depend on sense-perceptions and, hence, would for Plotinus surely not fall into the capacity of nous. Nevertheless, what I wish to argue for is that we can find an “experience of thought” at the core of Plotinus’ notions of nous and noêsis as they are depicted in Enn. V 5, chapters 7 and 8.

In what follows I first shall elaborate further on what I mean by “experience”. I will sketch a connection between Plotinus’ thought and Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus that I consider particularly helpful in this matter. Next, I shall turn to Plotinus’ treatment of nous in Enn. V 5. My discussion focusses on two passages from chapters seven and eight. The main thesis I will argue for is that Plotinus divides his conception of intellection into two conceptual layers: One upper layer by which nous can be understood as the activity of thinking particular intellectual thoughts, and one lower layer that serves the task of explaining how intellection in general is capable of grasping intelligible reality. In understanding what it means to have thoughts in this sense, Plotinus argues, we come to grasp the connection of both layers. “Experiencing thought”, for Plotinus, means to become aware of this connection.

II

At a first glance, the Aristotelian connotation of “empirically grasping something out there” seems to be out of place here. Yet, an empirically tainted conception of “experience” may nevertheless serve as the framework within which an understanding of thinking itself is available. Such a connection between experience and non-empirical thought is paradigmatically at work in some remarks of the early Wittgenstein. The point I wish to highlight is that Wittgenstein employs a procedure of finding the foundations of thinking within its ordinary acts. Also, his notion of experience has the important connotation of changing the way one, as a subject, thinks of her intellectual activity:

The “experience” which we need to understand logic is not that such and such is the case, but that something is; but that is no experience. Logic precedes every experience – that something is so.[5]TLP, 5.552 (translation Ogden)

First of all, it needs to be remembered that logic for Wittgenstein has a broad meaning. I will not go into details here, but let it suffice that logic for him denotes the general capacity for representing facts in thought, i.e. for meaningful thinking. In this passage, Wittgenstein suggests that we may come to an understanding of logic by realizing that any regular experience of something being such and so is not the kind of thing that guarantees such an understanding. However, within the dialectic of our quotation, the realization that no experience could provide this understanding appears as a retrospective conclusion. In that Wittgenstein first keeps the notion he highlights its role as a step towards this insight. In the second part of 5.552, he mentions a reason for his conclusion: Logic, he says, “precedes every experience”. In pronouncing the contrast of something being so and something simply being, he connects our regular experiences to qualitatively distinct representations of states of affairs. That means, what we need to grasp in order to come to an understanding of logic is something that is common to and, thereby, in itself precedes every particular experience. Hence, Wittgenstein expresses the idea that every particular experience, since it is grasped within the general framework of logic, is intelligible in virtue of something that itself cannot be understood by pointing to a certain representation of facts. What Wittgenstein first announces as an experience and then, in turn, disqualifies as such is the way in which we come to understand the role that logic plays for our general ability to relate to the world of facts.

Arriving at such a comprehension of the grounds of empirical thought might easily appear as an “experience” – for what actually happens is that we mentally see, as it were, how our fundamental modes of thought are constitutive for our representations in general. What we are “experiencing” is not that certain things are thus and so, but rather that we ourselves are thinkers. Hence, to understand logic also means to view yourself as a certain kind of entity – or so it seems. However, according to this view, thinking itself becomes something we can think about, i.e. one of the facts of our world. As such, it would be something to which we can relate via representing it. Yet, such a self-directed understanding cannot be a regular experience, since this would make our understanding of logic dependent on one single experience – and, hence, not something that can be common to every experience. (Compare the opposite case: if understanding logic would be one fact among other facts, it would not be connected to the other facts; it would rather be something that we might grasp or not – ceteris paribus. Yet, everything else would not be equal: If we hadn’t had any understanding of logic, we would not be able to understand a single fact.) Yet, there is another way in which we are legitimate in calling this insight an “experience”. We are not grasping logic in virtue of having a certain empirical representation; but in understanding that this isn’t the case, our relationship towards ourselves as thinkers changes fundamentally: As thinkers, we are not elements of possible states of affairs and, hence, not objects of the world. Therefore, arriving at an understanding of what thinking is, this coming-to-understand both cannot count as an experience of something being such and so and, by the same token, appears as the lively experience of changing one’s entire attitude towards oneself.

Wittgenstein’s discussion makes it clear that a non-empirical understanding of thought incorporates understanding experiences in a particular way – namely viewing them as based on one and the same activity in virtue of which we are their thinkers. Yet, understanding oneself as active in this way has a double nature: On the one hand it implies abstracting from empirical modes of self-awareness. On the other hand, the locus of this activity is precisely every regular experience. It is nothing other than that what we do when we grasp that things are thus and so. It is by understanding what makes an experience an experience that we come to comprehend the nature of thought, namely the nature of what we always were doing in expressing ordinary experiences. The merit of calling this self-relation an “experience” is twofold: First, it introduces the idea of a gradual progress from the naive assertion that understanding thought would be just an ordinary experience towards the sophisticated insight that such an understanding, though it never transcends ordinary acts, doesn’t constitute just another token of this kind. Second, it keeps the connotation of an insisting change of one’s theoretical attitude. While an experience in the ordinary, empirical sense changes what one believes to be true or, more intimate, how one feels or sees the world, the “experience of thought” changes how one sees oneself as the agent of one’s thoughts.

III

Let’s turn now to Plotinus and Enn. V 5. We shall see how Plotinus develops a conception of intellection that, as well, becomes comprehensible to his readers in the course of an “experience of thought”. This experience is part of the self-awareness of Intellect.[6]We should be aware of the fact that Intellect (nous) is not a subject in the modern sense for Plotinus. He rather thinks of souls as such subjects – i.e. beings that have a certain individual stance to the world and, thereby, differentiate themselves from being and, as self-conscious beings, from themselves in order to identify themselves in different possible ways. Intellect, on the other hand, is called “eternal”, i.e. an unchanging being the essence of which is identical to its activity (energeia). This means, that Intellect is identical to the entirety of knowable itself – and not a thinker that sometimes thinks of these and sometimes of other things. Rather, individual souls are such thinkers; they can take part in intellectual knowledge when they identify themselves as intelligible being. Therefore, and in contrast to Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, we are not concerned with empirical representations, but with the veridic mode of knowledge that Plotinus frequently identifies with pure intellection. The difference, however, that put Wittgenstein’s discussion in motion, i.e. the difference between singular acts of thinking and their grounding condition, is applicable to Plotinus’ description of the Intellect as well:

This, then, is what the seeing of Intellect is like; this also sees by another light the things illuminated by that first nature, and sees the light in them; (…). But since Intellect must not see this light as external, we must go back again to the eye; this will itself sometimes know a light which is not the external, alien light, but it momentarily sees before the external light a light of its own, a brighter one; (…), Just so Intellect, veiling itself from other things and drawing itself inward, when it is not looking at anything will see a light, not a distinct light in something different from itself, but suddenly appearing, alone by itself in independent purity, so that Intellect is at a loss to know whence it has appeared, whether it has come from outside or within, and after it has gone away will say: “It was within, and yet it was not within.”[7]Enn. V 5, 7: 16 – 36. (translation Armstrong).

Plotinus continues this line of thought in the following chapter where he announces a helpful comparison from the Homeric epics:

So one must not chase after it [i.e. what appears to Intellect as its inner light], but wait quietly till it appears, preparing oneself to contemplate it, as the eye awaits the rising sun; and the sun rising over the horizon – “from Ocean”, the poets say – gives itself to the eyes to see. But from where will he of whom the sun is an image rise? What is the horizon which he will mount above when he appears? He will be above Intellect itself which contemplates him.[8]Enn. V 5, 8: 3 – 10. (translation Armstrong).

The first thing to notice here is that Plotinus sets out to describe the “seeing” of Intellect, i.e. its intellectual activity, which he then locates in a somehow vague position between immanence and transcendence. The ambiguity is best expressed at the end of chapter seven, when Intellect is imagined as struggling with its own impression of the “light” by which it sees: “It was within, and yet it was not within.” Plotinus thereby compares the Intellect to a subject that struggles between different ways of understanding its own intellectual capacity: How can Intellect make sense of its own activity, if the ground of its general capacity to “see” things is both present to each of its thoughts and yet not part of it? Plotinus especially highlights that Intellect is somehow in an in-between-position: On the one hand, its activity rests purely within itself; on the other hand, Intellect seems to have a somehow alienated relationship towards the way in which every intellectual act becomes “seeable” for it. Instead of simply “seeing” its ground, i.e. grasping it besides its other objects, its activity rather entails its presence or absence.

To make sense of this puzzling remark, we first have to ask what Plotinus intends the “light” of Intellect to be. The whole passage is situated in the context of Plotinus’ description of the Intellect’s “double seeing”. Just as the eyes not only see their objects, but are also aware of the medium within which those objects are visible, i.e. the light of the sun, so Intellect, as well, not only contemplates intelligible beings, but also their common ground of intelligibility. This second feature of the doctrine of “double seeing” is the locus of Plotinus’ troubles in our passage. Thereby, his usage of “light” to explain intellection is itself of double origin. First, it is imported from his comparison of Intellect to the eye. However, as Plotinus points out, every-day seeing has two sources – there isn’t only the outer light of the sun that renders sensible objects visible, but the eyes also are a kind of source of light, a light that makes them adequate addressees of visible objects in general. Transferred to Intellect, Plotinus asks for the source of this second kind of light, the light that renders Intellect an adequate addressee of intelligible objects.

Formally, therefore, the “light” by which Intellect grasps its objects expresses that there is a common condition of their intelligibility, just as logic was for ordinary experiences in Wittgenstein’s Tractatus. We saw that Wittgenstein’s immanent procedure implied a tension between his starting point, the regular experiences, and his result, the coming to see such experiences as acts of logical thought. The tensions consisted in the fact that while a logical thought, in the end, was nothing other than the experience of something being such and so, it nevertheless involved a change in our comprehension of such experiences. Seen from the viewpoint of Wittgenstein’s result, they are actualizations of one basic activity, whereas seen from the viewpoint of his starting-point, they cannot be understood as connected in that way – for, then, they would be seen as grounded, not in one underlying capacity, but in some further experience and, hence, would depend on the truth of one single thought. Therefore, in order to see our experiences from the viewpoint of logic, we needed to reconfigure our concept of an experience. The basic element of this reconfiguration was to understand that an experience is a logical picture of some state of affairs, i.e. that it is what it is in virtue of representing facts. However, this ability of representing the facts is not of the same kind as those facts themselves. That means, what we need to be able to do in order to think of something being thus and so, can itself not be the object of such a thought. It, therefore, transcends our regular “thinking of things” in general and, by the same token, characterizes every meaningful act of thinking internally.

Now, let’s turn back to Plotinus. At the beginning of our passage, he points out that the “light” of Intellect comes from “another nature” and, hence, transcends its intellectual activity – while, by the same token, it is present to each and every of its objects. Hence, Plotins arrives at a similar tension between a possible act of intellection and its condition of intelligibility: By comparing the inner “light” of the Intellect to the eyes’ own light, Plotinus points out that the reason in virtue of which Intellect is able to comprehend its objects remains purely immanent to itself. Perplexingly, he seems to provide this comparison as a solution to the asserted tension between this “light” coming “from another nature” and its status as immanent to the Intellect itself.

His main point seems to be this: An act of intellection that is not directed to any particular object, but rather to the medium in which such objects become comprehensible, needs to grasp as its content the reason of the intelligibility of every object in general and, hence, not one particular object. That means, such an act of thought will be directed to its own basic function. However, by being active in such a way, Intellect somehow loses track of what it is doing when it is engaged in intellection. For if we regard an understanding of this activity as outside of the reach of noetic thought, we run risk of alienating Intellect from its prime role of grasping the truth about its objects. For, as Plotinus points out elsewhere, Intellect safeguards its veridic mode of knowing by its ability to know each of its objects as its own actuality, i.e. by understanding its acts as successful. In other words: the procedure by which intellections as such become intelligible, namely as truly grasping reality, must itself be knowable to Intellect. However, Plotinus describes Intellect’s “experience” of its “inner light” as fluctuating; it “suddenly appears” and vanishes.

What we can state thus far, then, is this: In reflecting upon its inner condition of intelligibility, Intellect finds something that itself cannot be understood as a further object of its activity. Yet, by finding it internal to this activity, Intellect can only make sense of this condition as appearing within its thoughts, like a light of which we suddenly become aware of in the absence of any proper object, and that, in the same way, disappears from our active awareness to make room for other proper objects of thought.

IV

At this point it seems reasonable to introduce further terminology. We may divide what we called “intellection” into two layers and call the activity of Intellect, by which it grasps particular intelligible objects, its epistemic act. If we regarded intellectual thinking as consisting of this act alone we are in a position that roughly parallels Wittgenstein’s starting-point. However, both authors highlight that understanding thought is a more complex matter. For equipped only with the epistemic act, the condition of intelligibility on which every such act rests can itself not be represented in thought, adequately. To do justice to this complexity we may introduce a further layer of intellection that I will call the metaphysical act. For Plotinus the latter introduces the idea that intellection becomes intelligible if and only if it is suitably related to a purely transcendent reality that, in turn, by no means becomes part of any epistemic relationship.

In chapter eight Plotinus describes the “experience” that Intellect makes when it realizes that reference to its epistemic act is not sufficient for explaining its whole activity. He sets out to do so by means of the above cited mythic picture that we find at the beginning of chapter 8. There, he compares the appearance of the inner “light” of Intellect to the rising sun that suddenly appears at the horizon. Especially interesting is his quasi-etymological connection of “rising over the horizon” (huperphaneis tou horizontos) to the Homeric verse “from the ocean” (ex ôkeanou).[9]Cf. Homer, Iliad VII, 421 f. In connecting the horizon as the outer limit of our field of vision to Okeanos, the mythic outer limit of the world itself, the field of vision becomes an absolute limit for our thoughts. For if the epistemic horizon of a subject converged with the ontic horizon of things in general, the subject’s possibilities of expression became equal in cardinality to the possibilities of beings in the world. This means, that such a subject would be limited in its possible thoughts only by the world itself; there would be nothing of which, in general, it could not have meaningful thoughts. This, however, seems to imply the thesis that, what one can think of equals that, what may be part of reality and, hence, that thought and its object are part of one basic relationship, namely thinking – or in Plotinus’s case: of intellection (and we are indeed concerned with the totality of intelligible being in this case). On this view, however, no part of the intelligible world could ever be completely transcendent to Intellect’s activity. How does this thesis, then, fit Plotinus’ insistence that Intellect in its intellectual activity needs to be related to “another nature”, different from itself?

Until now, we left aside that Plotinus introduced his comparison primarily in order to focus on the role of the sun. For directly after mentioning the affinity of Okeanos and the horizon he asks: “But from where will he of whom the sun is an image rise?” This question highlights once more the all-encompassing nature of this horizon; the sun, as an image of something that rises above the horizon, can itself not count as something that lies inside of its limits. We may think here of Plotinus’ assurance that the eye, as well, contains a source of light that makes it first and foremost an adequate subject of sight; this light, as Plotinus argues, could be noticed by the eye only in abstraction from any outer object of sight. Plotinus’ analogy in chapter eight picks up on the same idea: What he wants to make sense of is explicitly the inner light of Intellect. Hence, the sun must be understood as paralleling that which grounds the inner ability of Intellect to understand its own thoughts, the reason that makes it an adequate addressee of intelligible objects in general. For this reason, the sun needs to be different from any object that is illuminated by its light and, hence, that would lie inside of the horizon. This also fits our observation that in likening the outer limit of the field of vision to Okeanos, Plotinus describes an absolute limit of thought, a limit beyond which no possible object of thought remains.

In this sense, the limit of intellectual activity not only encompasses everything that can be thought of, but also everything that is. In this way, understanding what every object of thought makes it such an object, namely a being, parallels exactly Wittgenstein’s demand to understand what it means for something simply to be as the basic reason of the intelligibility of logic. Since we understood this comprehension of logic as the pre-condition of every single thought, we may ask Plotinus the following question: What is it to which Plotinus attributes the role of explaining the intelligibility of everything inside this limit, i.e. of the fact that everything that falls into this horizon is an object of intellection and, by the same token, a being? His comparison entails two possible candidates. First, we might be thinking of the light that illuminates everything inside the world’s horizon. For it is the medium that renders everything seeable and, transferred to the Intellect, makes everything intelligible to it. The second candidate, of course, is the sun itself.

The light that illuminates the world in its horizon seems to be a natural candidate, since the presence of the “inner light” of Intellect was the cause of its troubles at the end of chapter seven. However, Plotinus makes it clear that it is not strictly speaking its presence that confuses Intellect, but rather its source. For Intellect is not depicted as struggling over the question whether its thoughts are intelligible to it or not – its confusion rather lies in the lack of comprehensibility of the reason in virtue of which it understands its own thoughts. Hence, if we compare the “inner light” of Intellect to the light within the horizon, we may think of it as the fact that every thought is intelligible, i.e. as that which Intellect seemed to be unable to grasp by its noetic activity. That means, the light within the horizon is that what Intellect needs to understand in order to understand its own ability to comprehend being and, therefore, it stands for the explanandum of his comparison. Hence, in order to understand the intelligibility of being we need to grasp the reason why there is such a light. And this reason, in Plotinus’ comparison, is obviously the sun.

Because the sun’s light is present to every object it guarantees the success of every intellection understood as an epistemic act. However, as this image makes clear, that what is present to every epistemic object – the object that becomes intelligible in an epistemic act – is itself not simply there, but has a reason – namely the sun itself. If Intellect wanted to understand why every epistemic object is intelligible to it, it needed to reflect on this reason. Put in the terms of Plotinus’ comparison, we can now better understand the dilemma of the experience of Intellect. On the first horn it grasps this reason as a further epistemic object; in this case, that what is represented by the sun, would be considered as an object that lies within the horizon and, hence, would depend on the light that makes it visible. However, that means presupposing what we wanted to understand: the reason of an epistemic object’s intelligibility. The other horn, however, seems to be not much better: Here, Intellect would understand that the sun’s counterpart cannot be represented as a further epistemic object. Yet, how could it locate the reason for its own self-comprehension in something that remains purely outside of its reach?

Of course, the sun, here and elsewhere in Plotinus, represents the highest principle of his thought that he calls “the One”[10] One crucial aspect of this highest principle, that cannot be addressed fully here, is that it provides unity. Indeed, the One can plausibly be called a “Unity-Giver” for Plotinus. This aspect is also related to its epistemic function outlined in this text. Since the One provides everything with unity, and, hence with a proper and unified essence, it also guarantees the unity of thought – i.e. it’s epistemic function consists precisely in providing an outer limit to what can be thought about in order to unify our concept of being as the all-encompassing object of meaningful thought and speech.. Nevertheless, I shall proceed as though we would not know what this principle is or what role it plays in Plotinus’ metaphysics. The reason is that I am interested in the functional role the One plays for Plotinus’ comparison, and we best abstract from its further connotations for the moment. So, the sun’s referent, whatever it might be, would have to fulfil the following conditions: First, it needs to be the reason why the entire world of being is intelligible. For it is the source of the light that makes everything visible that falls into the field of vision, i.e. inside the horizon. Hence, it cannot be restricted in its effects to some beings as opposed to others. It applies to being as such. Second, this means that it is purely transcendent. Since the sun is “mount[ing] above” the horizon, and therefore is situated beyond it, and since the horizon is the absolute horizon of being and intellection, the sun, too, is located beyond everything that could ever be thought of intellectually or have being. Finally, since the sun represents the reason for the intelligibility of being, this reason itself is neither a part of being nor of intellection and, hence, is situated completely outside Intellect and its activity.

Therefore, the metaphysical act of thinking consists for the Intellect in understanding its intellectual activity as depending on such a transcendent cause. To be more precise: it consists in understanding that every single act of intellection not only grasps an intelligible object – this alone would only count as an epistemic act. It further consists in understanding that intellectual acts, in order to be intelligible as such acts, i.e. as being capable of grasping the entirety of being, need to be related to a completely transcendent source of this capability. This means that the ability of Intellect to understand each of its thoughts as a thought of true being depends on a further layer of its intellectual activity by which it doesn’t grasp a further particular object, but rather relates to the source of such intelligibility in general. For only the prior coordination of thought and that in virtue of which each of its objects is exactly this, namely a being, makes it possible for the activity of thinking to be related in each and every of its acts to being alone. In other words: In order to be an absolute limit, the horizon of Intellect needs to be related to the limit of being; this is established by coordinating intellectual activity in every instance of it with the fundamental principle of being as such. In this sense every noetic act entails the epistemic layer of thought and its metaphysical layer. It grasps true being and knows, thereby, how such can act can be intelligible to it. Hence, the metaphysical act of thought is nothing other than the relationship of thinking to the un-differentiated principle of being, i.e. that relationship by which intellection as a whole – noêsis – knows that each and every of its acts are comprehensible as true thoughts about being.

Referenzen

Referenzen
1 cf. Parmenides, B1: 26 – 32. In this passage at the end of Parmenides’ description of his ascent, the goddess proclaims a way that lies far off every human conduct or experiences; this way, rather, follows the path of themis and dikê, i.e. divine law and just necessity. In B2 the goddess gives a fuller account of this path and claims that there is only one path of true conviction, the path of “it is” – or being. Only this path allows for understanding, though and speech and, hence, orientation via thinking.
2 cf. Michelle Foucault, The Hermeneutics of the Subject, 1982.
3 cf. Plotinus, Ennead I 2, 3 – 4.
4 cf. Aristotle, Metaphysics, 980b28ff.
5 TLP, 5.552 (translation Ogden)
6 We should be aware of the fact that Intellect (nous) is not a subject in the modern sense for Plotinus. He rather thinks of souls as such subjects – i.e. beings that have a certain individual stance to the world and, thereby, differentiate themselves from being and, as self-conscious beings, from themselves in order to identify themselves in different possible ways. Intellect, on the other hand, is called “eternal”, i.e. an unchanging being the essence of which is identical to its activity (energeia). This means, that Intellect is identical to the entirety of knowable itself – and not a thinker that sometimes thinks of these and sometimes of other things. Rather, individual souls are such thinkers; they can take part in intellectual knowledge when they identify themselves as intelligible being.
7 Enn. V 5, 7: 16 – 36. (translation Armstrong).
8 Enn. V 5, 8: 3 – 10. (translation Armstrong).
9 Cf. Homer, Iliad VII, 421 f.
10 One crucial aspect of this highest principle, that cannot be addressed fully here, is that it provides unity. Indeed, the One can plausibly be called a “Unity-Giver” for Plotinus. This aspect is also related to its epistemic function outlined in this text. Since the One provides everything with unity, and, hence with a proper and unified essence, it also guarantees the unity of thought – i.e. it’s epistemic function consists precisely in providing an outer limit to what can be thought about in order to unify our concept of being as the all-encompassing object of meaningful thought and speech.

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