International Society for Philosophers

International Society for Philosophers

Wisdom begins with wonder

PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS                   ISSN 2043-0728


Issue number 6 22 April 2001


I. The Use and Value of Philosophy: Round Two

II. 'Inspiration Renewed!' by Chris Schmaling

III. Top Ten Philosophy Sites: Competition



In Round Two of the Pathways Internet Conference on the Use and Value of Philosophy (last reported on in Issue 4 of Pathways News, 11 March) I asked the participants to write about 'a particular philosopher, past or present, whose work or whose life you find inspiring'. There were some fascinating contributions - and a number of surprises too. Descartes, Hume, Aristotle, those names might have been expected. What I hadn't expected were the pieces on Simone Weil, George Gamow, Henry D. Thoreau, Machiavelli, Plotinus. What a collection!

Well done, all those involved!

From Canada, Associate Diploma student Chris Schmaling sent this conference submission on the philosopher Plotinus (204-270 AD) which he has kindly allowed me to reproduce here.

Geoffrey Klempner



Over the years I have reflected on the following words by Plotinus that I found in a book on meditation and contemplation:

"Withdraw into yourself and look. And if you do not find yourself beautiful as yet, do as does the creator of a statue that is to be made beautiful; he cuts away here, he smoothes there, he makes this line lighter, this other purer, until he has shown a beautiful face upon the statue. So do you also; cut away all that is excessive, straighten all that is crooked, bring right to all that is shadowed, labour to make all glow with beauty, and do not cease chiseling your statue until there shall shine out on you the godlike splendor of virtue, until you shall see the final goodness surely established in the stainless shrine."

Until recently I only knew that the author was a Neoplatonist, a philosopher, and that he wrote a book titled The ENNEADS.

My first reaction to the Round 2 task was a mild panic attack as I know of a number of philosophers but I did not have a favorite one for whom I have a special regard. I thought back to a short conversation with a philosophy teacher and his reply to my interest in Stoicism as a 'way of life' or 'philosophy of life.' He encouraged me to continue looking. I have since then come to understand that the Stoic (as represented by Zeno of Citium) strives to be virtuous through denial and repression. Such a person who is indifferent to the world, in a sense, abstracts himself from life. This attitude of intellectual fatalism attempts to deny man's interdependence with external conditions and thus presents contradictions and illusions. One such problem is that it might be short-sighted to regard such a strategy of retreat as a 'philosophy of life'.

A number of names went through my head - as well, I considered a variety of philosophical works. After a while I decided that I would appoint Plotinus as the exalted one and learn more about him to justify my choice. As it turns out he is the major figure of neo-Platonism. Indeed, one modern writer refers to him as the watershed of classical philosophy and a precursor of modern times. Among other achievements he had found grounds to renew interest in Platonic thought, refining some questions that the early philosophers had not been able to resolve.

We know very little about his life: He was reticent to talk or write about it; in fact his student Porphyry organized and published his ENNEADS after his death in 270AD. Briefly, it appears that he was born in Egypt in 204AD. He did not talk about his parents but Porphyry tells us that he was most likely raised in a privileged environment and had no difficulty securing important and influential connections. His passion for philosophy began when he was twenty-eight years old. He studied in Alexandria under Ammonius Saccus, Origen's former teacher. In 243 he joined Emperor Gordian's campaign against the Persians. He did this because he wanted to go to the East and learn from the wise and mystical Brahmins of India. However, soldiers assassinated the Emperor and Plotinus fled to Antioch. It is possible that he had a part in the intrigue since the fact that he fled for his life was not because of any Persian threat. Later he founded a famous school of philosophy in Rome.

His ideas and neo-Platonism had considerable influence in philosophy, theology, mysticism, politics, and other disciplines. The three God religions Christianity, Judaism, and Islam reflect some of his principles. Origen and Clement used his ideas to express Christianity. Saint Augustine, who was a Neoplatonist before becoming a Christian conceived that spirit was immaterial and that evil was unreal. It was necessary to combine the two attitudes thereby giving greater authority to the Christian congregation. G. W. F. Hegel's metaphysics had neo-Platonic ingredients. Many mystical movements in the West, including those of Meister Eckhardt and Jacob Boehme, also owe something to Plotinus. Poets such as Goethe, T.S. Elliot, and Novalis interested themselves in his work.

Here are some of the themes:

Paul Henry, S.J. writes that it is largely through Christianity that Plotinus, like Aristotle, has influenced the thought of the West. There is a remarkable continuity of Plotinus' Hellenism with Christian thought, but the latter, on some issues reverts to the pure rationality or the mystical rationalism of Plotinus' Platonism, and sometimes, as in certain types of phenomenology and existentialism, remains, on the philosophical plane, nearer to the Aristotelian and Judaeo-Christian tradition than to the Greek idealism of Plato and Plotinus. According to one author, Plotinus' purpose was to put into systematic form an idealistic philosophy and thus combat the trends of Stoicism and Skepticism that had crept into interpretations of the philosophy of Plato. Plotinus rejected the dualism of two disparate realms of being (good and evil, material and transcendent, universal and particular) and sets forth instead one vast order containing all the various levels and kinds of existence. At the center of the order is the One, an incomprehensible, all-sufficient unity. By the process of emanation the One gives rise to the Divine Mind or Logos [word; intellectual principle] which contains all the forms, or living intelligences, of individuals.

Julian the Apostate considered neo-Platonism a scientific, philosophic and as an all embracing teaching capable of elevating the soul. Plotinus believed that God is the transcendent One, the Good, the metaphysically infinite and that only through mysticism can one gain an understanding. The soul emanated from the Logos is a little further from perfection. Plotinus considered that the part of the soul which is within the individual to have a tendency to fall away from the Mind in search of the self or identity, loses its simplicity. Numinous experiences occur when the self regains a former level of simplicity. However, this is beyond the control of the soul, yet occurs through a mystical return to the abysmal One.

There is, of course, much more to Plotinus' ENNEADS, but I have been reinspired to 'withdraw into myself and do some looking.'

(c) Chris Schmaling 2001



- And now for something completely different.

In Issue 5 of Pathways News, 31 March, I reported on the latest addition to the Pathways Web site, a listing of the top ten philosophy web sites which visitors could vote for by filling out a simple form, at:


"Click on 'voting form'. Enter the details of your favourite philosophy web site - or the site you enjoyed visiting most this week - and choose the category which best describes the web site. Don't forget your name and e-mail."

I am pleased to say that the first 'Top Ten' listing is now up - many thanks to all those who took the time to vote.

In order to provide an added incentive, I have decided to organize a little competition. Every time a vote is submitted it will be entered into a prize draw. The first draw will take place on June 1. The prize is a copy of my book 'Naive Metaphysics' (Avebury 1994). The more times you vote, the better your chances of winning. So get those mouses clicking!

Geoffrey Klempner

© Geoffrey Klempner 2002–2020