Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Neoplatonism, anyone?

Good overview and discussion of Neoplatonism over on BBC Radio 4 in the programme "In Our Time" introduced and moderated by Melvin Bragg with various scholars. Here's an introduction to Neoplatonism, and Plotinus.

When Plato dies, the academy falls into the hand of Plato's successors. In 155 BCE Carneades leads the academy in the direction of a school of skeptical philosophy. Plato is appropriated in various ways including Epicureanism. Neoplatonism takes Plato's divisions between sensible material world and the world of forms, including the form of the good, and seeks to return to the true essence of Plato by unveiling true meanings of Platonic texts. Everything that is comes from unity and the intelligible world of forms which then devolves into multiplicity. The notion of "the One"goes back to Plato's Republic in which the form of "the Good" is the ultimate value and source of all. It is compared to the sun and it brings all things into being. Plotinus also had several mystical experiences of ecstatic union with "the One." Union with "the One" is achieved through a program of rigorous philosophy and self-discipline turning away from the sensible world.

Plotinus' (d.270CE) biography was written by Porphyry and his writings the Enneads are well known. Educated in Alexandria, he also went east on military campaigns perhaps encountering Indian philosophy. Settling in Rome, Plotinus opened a public school for aristocracy and other interested people as a public sage.

Successors of Plotinus like Porphyry and other Neoplatonists are in dialogue with Christianity, Judaism, and even Islam particularly for a defense of monotheism. Iamblichus was much more interested in magic and theurgy. Proclus is the most important late Neoplatonist who lived and wrote in Athens. He integrates pagan religious belief into his philosophy. The ruins of his house have been discovered with remains of animal sacrifice in it.

These are the discussants:

Angie Hobbs
Associate Professor of Philosophy and Senior Fellow in the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of Warwick
Peter Adamson
Professor of Ancient and Medieval Philosophy at King's College London
Anne Sheppard
Professor of Ancient Philosophy at Royal Holloway, University of London


TonyTheProf said...

Surprisingly it didn't mention the other path of Neoplatonism, into Christianity. Synesius of Cyrene was a Neoplatonist who studied under Hypatia of Alexandria, and became a Bishop.

Deirdre said...

Thanks Tony. It's that specialization of academics, I suppose. Someone mentions Origen at the beginning but the connection you identify isn't developed. Thanks for your comment!

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