Neoplatonism notes

Go to My Writing for explanation of this document.

Ab223 Proclus:- "The hierarchy of thought is the same as the hierarchy of things".

Ab271 "East Roman Christians saw the kingdom of God on earth as a symbol of the kingdom of Heaven, and only secondly as an historic reality valid because of the facts of the Incarnation and the Resurrection. The Greatest of the eastern fathers, Origen of Caesarea, had laid himself open to attack on these grounds. One critic, Porphyry, even argued that though he was a Christian in his manner of life, he was a Hellene in his religious thought and adapted Neoplatonism to the interpretation of the scriptures" (Wallace Hadril)

ac116 Iamblichus and Julian. The times, The anti-sexuality. "Ye despisers of the body". What Lecky calls 'the Egyptian philosophy'. Does he mean hermeticism? This makes them unsympathetic. The age was so decadent that even the chief enemies of corruption could not escape it.

Ac33 If I criticise Nietzsche's attitude to the renaissance and the reformation, I suspect his understanding of its mainsprings was not complete. Magical and neoplatonist philosophies played both a more important and a more attractive part than he seems to allow

ae306 I want to say there is wisdom in it, however that be conceived. Chance of an elevated perspective. If it has shortcomings as philosophy it is admirable as religion. Pletho the first to attribute the Chaldean Oracles to Zoroaster.
Anti-Christianity important to the esoteric.

ae327 Pletho, his merit. He was a cultural reformer. Woodhouse says he was uninterested in art. His pagan hymns were said to show no religious feeling. His advocacy of burnings as punishment strikes us as inhumane and obnoxious. Surely if Platonism survives in art then it survives. Art is one of the forms in which philosophy may survive. Revival of a genuinely neoplatonic philosophy. Proclus-Psellus-Pletho. Bessarion. Scholarios, George Trapenzentius, Michael Apolostes. The fact that he was Greek with a continuous cultural and linguistic heritage. See him as a religious thinker. Platonism in the west had a vitalising, energising, culturally creative effect. If there was one person who consciously decided to produce this, it was Pletho.
Even Proclus is genuine Greek tradition. The Greeks back to Homer and beyond are at the very root of us. Neoplatonism as a bringer of clarity.
A feeling, a religious and anti-Christian feeling. One might almost forgive Plato for the illiberalism and repressiveness of the Laws. For what is being protected is something better than Christianity, and it is not the jealousy of the Jewish God.
Plato and Pletho, their callous intolerance.

ae37 Max Weber on the religious prophet. "It was the function of the aysmnete to resolve the conflicts between classes and to produce a new sacred law of eternal validity for which he had to secure divine approbation."

Sociological interpretations can be counsels of despair. I do not conceive my philosophy as expressing the economic interest of any particular class . Ineffectiveness. Suppose reason and logic, overwhelmingly compelling reasons and logic are absolutely ineffective and convince no one. The prophet in conflict with the established priesthood. What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? You can doubt your own sanity. Truth as it appears to you might be overwhelmingly compelling. But suppose you can do nothing with it? The pressure is always on you to accept that the outside force is the truth. But if ever you yield to this pressure and give way, what does it make you? A living contradiction. And what is there for that to do except annihilate itself as a diseased fragment, hoping out of benevolence that it will not repeat itself or reproduce?

Neoplatonism and the esoteric. Al Farabi. The peculiar nature of this philosophy. A source of wisdom, leading into mystery, whatever its critical shortcomings. It is a type of religion and one that enables us to overcome a real weight of democratic pressure. It offers opportunities for escape. A refuge for wisdom.

ae41 Weber despises Neoplatonism, Mandaeanism, Gnosticism etc. as 'salvationist' religions of upper class intellectuals. Note that he had a nervous breakdown and was mentally unstable.

"the need of literary academic or café society intellectuals to include religious feelings in the inventory of their sources of impressions and sensations has never yet given rise to a new religion". But what about Socrates and his associates. Were these 'café society intellectuals?" It is arguable that Socrates gave rise to a number of religions, including Stoicism and Neoplatonism.

Ak218 "Another phase of Scotus' thought is his doctrine of the will… which is influenced by Arabian neoplatonic thought. This tradition had presented a vision of a Universe so shot through with necessary connections that little or no place remained for contingency or freedom…. The loosening of the web of the intellectually necessary connections naturally affected Scotus' view as to the possibility of the proofs of the existence of God in the style of Aquinas. .. It is therefore on God as the metaphysical ground of possibility, rather than on God as inferred from the physical, that Scotus' proofs of the existence of God tend to turn ( Dictionary of Philosophy, ed Anthony Flew)

Al225 Deducing all the attendant judgements and emotions surrounding enlightenment, as we deduce which opinions (like prohibitionism and collectivism) render people contemptible? Or what emotions prefigure and attend enlightenment? Celestial hierarchies, seraphim, cherubim, archangels, thrones, dominions, powers. Heidegger aimed to overthrow the neoplatonic hierarchy and replace it with something different.

An5 Different types of God. To the true neoplatonist, even God is a vulgar expression. He conceives a state so refined that it is even beyond the beyond. Something to minister to his pride. Something so totally unexpected and completely beyond all normal comprehension. Hegel, on the other hand, wants a specific God, a political god. To the neoplatonist, Hegel's conception of enlightenment is the archetype of ignorance and darkness.

Ar175 The tension in the whole of Plato, the whole of the religious tradition. With Neoplatonism, much of the gnostic element. This manages somehow to get away from the tyrannical quality, partly because it includes a consciousness of oppression from that quarter as something that needs to be overcome. Psychologically Neoplatonism is largely sound. Its contribution to art and the aesthetic is therefore very large. Fitting in well with Schopenhauer and Buddhism.

Ar184 Christian kabbalah, Neoplatonism. Function of the Jews in contributing to the renaissance via the kabbalah. Neoplatonism, though as philosophy it has been widely disdained, has in many ways been extremely productive and useful. Shakespeare and the painting of the high renaissance.

Cc115 Much of the best in traditional Christianity is really Neoplatonism, as when we enjoy it aesthetically. The idea of a superior kind of knowledge and insight, as distinct from the merely moral interpretation which is now most common.

Cc119& Toynbee on the stupidity of Iamblichus and Julian in their attempted counter revolution, Yet was it not in fact this line of development that was taken up again at the renaissance? The one advantage of Christianity was that it formed a systematic unity in a manner in which paganism never did. Neoplatonism was in one sense the development of an antibody to the disease of Christianity. The attempt to revivify a mass of declined instinctual energy.

Hh202 Neoplatonism, symbols. With symbols we can make our experiences intelligible, we can fix our conditions permanently in memory, so we do not feel fixed in them, as if they are all there is. We become conscious of what we are really aiming for and so do not feel prey to traps of others devising. We do not feel we have stumbled into something entirely new, and nail a condition to our arrogance as the whole of truth.. Symbolism is internal, it rests on no theory, only on the facts of nature. Always we strive, sometimes the path and the vision is blocked. Always we need enlightenment.

Ii110 Plotinus' system is exclusively intellectual, the truth of his experience made to depend on the cohesion of his intellectual construction. Inevitably this is laid open to doubt. We can see why later neoplatonists turned to theurgy and myth. They had to make the experience more secure than an intellectual construction. It is all very well admiring its rationalist purity, but we ourselves cannot adopt it. We may admire the argument but we perceive criticisms that might be made of it and where does that leave the mystical experience? Doubly difficult to get, certainly. That Plotinus was to a degree ignored by his later followers is logical enough. There was a route from him into Christian thought, a supposedly rational mysticism, St Augustine, insisting that the concepts with which we are to approach mystical experience are fixed and unalterable. The way of authority. But those who believed in reason rather than authority, seeing the criticism of any one particular path could not retreat it as authoritative but sought for other ways of anchoring and expressing the experience. Plotinus could not become an authority because the way was not to petrify a set of concepts which claimed to be rationally discoverable but to submit them to the test of reason. The One and Intellect are not concepts we have carefully built up, they are describable and approachable in different ways. This is an empirical method of showing what these Platonic forms are like, religious certainty and understanding.

Ii125 Curious point that ancient Neoplatonism is considered decadent, whereas renaissance Neoplatonism was vigorously alive and fecund. Something to do with worlds to win. What happened to the ancient world? It lost its expansionist vigour and fell into inwardness and pessimism. The renaissance reinterpreted Neoplatonism in the light of the conquering barbarian spirit that guided the Christianity of the west.

rr101 Edgar Wind's idea that the whole notion of esoteric philosophy derives from a misunderstanding of Plato's jokey comparison of philosophical discovery to initiation in the mysteries. The whole edifice of late Hellenistic Neoplatonism he regards as a sad degeneration.

rr103 Relations between philosophy and mysticism. The One of Plotinus as a worthy object for philosophy. The One may be characterised as the resolution of perplexity. Take Gilbert Ryle's programme for resolution of perplexity in The Philosophy of Mind. The one could be characterised as that philosophical insight., or the object of that philosophical insight that resolves philosophical perplexity concerning the nature and origin of that which is. Yet insofar as the One is postulated as exiting, it generates its opposite. Mysticism, the idea that such doctrines are only to be understood from the vantage point of certain abnormal states of consciousness. The idea of the One can be grasped and conceived philosophically. The basic concepts around which mysticism works are construed as revealed by the intellect. But the complete removal of perplexity will be an intense subjective experience. Perfect understanding, after its intellectual delineation, remains in a sense an object of aspiration, a kind of image of ecstatic fulfilment. So philosophy comes to involve itself with the postulation of a psychological condition. Complete understanding, The One, the insight drained of all possible predicates, (though still perhaps too much). Ryle, the Madhyamika, the neoplatonists. The 'One', the insight, is in a sense void, it is nothing. It is a state of understanding, but that is all that can be said about it. Philosophical understanding is just understanding, it has no particular content. It is the antithesis of perplexity, and it gains strength from this, for we are most of the time at least moderately perplexed, and it is the overcoming of this resistance. Such understanding has long been conceived as desirable. But then what more is there for philosophy to do? Other states of mind can be conceived with are also desirable. Can we be helped into those? The attainment of the conditions of intense happiness.. Philosophy as magic, philosophy linked to desire. The neoplatonic element in early Christianity. The Church as a vehicle of power, serving personal interests and desires. Rancid with superstition however.

rr113 As Ficino said, the trouble with the pleasures of the senses is not that they are pleasures, but that they do not last.

rr115& Ways of looking at Nietzschean psychology. The Aristotelian and the neoplatonic. See it as a scientific system, or as a kind of psychic ladder bestowing power. From the neoplatonic magical viewpoint, Nietzsche's ideas may be excellent.

uu113 "As long as any shapelessness that admits of being patterned and shaped does not share in reason or in Idea, it continues to be ugly and foreign to that above it". (Plotinus)

uu138& The three hypostases of Plotinus. Entities corresponding to inner contemplative experience. Points of explanation and satisfaction. Emanation. Logical priority. The hypostases treated as producing the world. At first this might seem primitive, unwarranted, grossly material. But the relation is a logical one, procession is merely the reversal of return. It is the way you may get form the one to the many. It is not a scientific explanation, but something rather different. Why should you return to the world of things? Do you create the world of things?

uu155& "His (Plotinus') objections to the Gnostics are of two sorts. One the one hand he says that soul, when it creates the world, does so from memory of the divine, and not because it is fallen" (Russell)

"The point of action is contemplation, and the having an object for contemplation. Action seeks to achieve indirectly what it cannot achieve directly.

When one has achieved the object of one's desires it is evident that ones real desire was not the ignorant possession of the desired object, but to know it as possessed - as actually contemplated, as within one". (Plotinus) Plotinus is the greatest philosophical mystic, He brings philosophical logic to religious and mystical experience.

uu167 Spengler on Proclus. Saying that Proclus was as intolerant as the Christian fathers. Even if he was, it was less reprehensible. He was still a counter revolutionary, He wanted to replace the harmful decadent propaganda with good, positive, healthy propaganda. But he made the same mistake as some fascists made.

uu52 Neoplatonists, enlighteners, intelligentsia. Constructing society, constructing a culture. It was the neoplatonists of the renaissance, who, in a sense, had the greatest mental freedom. Theirs was the most comprehensively rationalistic outlook, largely because they were not cramped and restricted by a narrow understanding of what is rational. The Neoplatonists were the precursors of the enlighteners, as the enlighteners preceded the Russian intelligentsia. But this intelligentsia had the same values as the enlighteners.

Vv156 Giordano Bruno

Vv183 more Bruno

Vv3 A concept of enlightenment that relates to the neoplatonic conception, with its emphasis on the magical power of ideas and the desire to include as many different traditions of wisdom as possible. That tradition has a present existence but it sadly lacks intellectual rigour, Wet and woolly Californian mysticism. Theosophy, green movements, Moral coercion, Neoplatonism, Rosicrucianism. A more flexible attitude to ideas. The green movement too, goes along with a lot of leftist moralism without analysing it. Moralism of the left, moralism of the right.

Xx40 Dissemination of ideas. Effect change directly by the dissemination of ideas. Rational magic, If one desires to see in existence some particular value, then to endeavour to promote it directly, as it were, and not just to hope that some predicted change in material conditions will have that effect. As the neoplatonists did at the renaissance. In many respects society at the end of the middle ages felt old and tired. New values, it was felt, could be created.
A materialistic inertia that impedes this.

yy140, St Augustine's Platonism. An appallingly concrete imagination. Many Christian commentators find it odd that he should ever have been drawn to the crudities of the Manichaeans. But despite a lot of subtlety, crudity was very much part of his nature. He put the neoplatonic scheme to a use for which it was not intended, a superstitious, morbid use. Not a philosopher's escapism, but a disillusioned sensualist looking for another world. With his world, unlike that of Plotinus, it makes a lot of sense to ask 'does it really exist?'

Plato's own speculations contain a strong vein of scepticism with which he seems to have been quite happy. Someone like Augustine needs to have faith. He needs something more substantial than a web of concepts. He wants to interpret these webs of concepts as describing a real world, as real, realler, than this one, into which the disillusioned sensualist can escape. Such a world needs faith to give it reality. The struggles of the Christian with his faith make for a lot of tormented souls, and interesting reading, but are hardly to be recommended..

yy162& Proclus was one of the most directly and indirectly influential philosophers in the history of thought, yet he is so little known. He presented his philosophy in a systematic, logical format that recalls Spinoza. Considered as philosophical argument, his work is of high quality, though it arouses little interest, as his fundamental orientation is not one people find sympathetic these days. The Questions of King Milinda is closer to modern concerns than is Proclus.

yy170& Payne Knight (Essay on the Worship of Priapus). Interesting as offering an alternative interpretation of religion to the neoplatonic. The sexual interpretation of religion. Forces of creation and destruction. Elementary emotional responses to life. Seeing the neoplatonic 'One' as an abstracting reinterpretation of this elemental religion. Unlike Freud and Jung, he actually offers a religion, based on interpretations of the mysteries and symbols as they appear on coins and medals. Bacchus, Pan supreme god. Bull, creative energy, lion destructive energy. Serpent as preserver. Priapus as originally the ultimate reality.

Proclus' treatise Ten Doubts Concerning Providence. Providence he appears to identify with God or 'the gods'. strictly subordinate to 'the One'.

Exciting idea of esoteric wisdom. Hidden knowledge, forbidden knowledge. A drab world to live in where this were no longer believed in.

People like Ockham, extremely opposed to Platonism, emanation etc., Requiring an essentially scientific approach to explanation. Exoteric conception of power. The emotional aspect of Neoplatonism. That which is rejected by Aristotelianism, which has a far more intellectual bias. I.e. a purely intellectual rational coherence is far more appropriate to it.

yy253 Note that Pseudo-Dionysius invented the world 'hierarchy'. That his neoplatonic cosmological contention provided the model for much mediaeval political speculation.

yy58 At the renaissance Neoplatonism was successful in certain countries including England, because of the rejection of the old clutter.

yy93 Neoplatonism. Allegorical interpretations of dogma. And its magical ideas. Idea of manipulating ideas and concepts to produce desired specific effects.

zz167 Pletho, Ficino, Pompazzoni, Pico. Note solar cult tendencies in Galileo. Recall the researches of Payne Knight.. Kind of scholarship required. Visualised diagrams. Simplifications for practical use. Hermeticism. Ecstatic theosophy. Aim towards the most desirable, in the context of various cosmologies. Imaginary wisdom, Imaginary structure of the universe and pedigrees of wisdom. See the context in which the ancient world moved to Christianity. The Jewish tradition offered all kinds of short cuts. Imaginative atmosphere of 1st 2nd and 3rd century Roman Empire. How Iamblichus let in oriental theosophical traditions. How a lot of these involve cosmologies, descriptions of structure of the universe.

zz208 Ficino, Neoplatonism. The variations different philosophers produce in the hypostases, the causes, the nature of substance, etc. Does that give an arbitrary feel to some of those systems? Ficino's aesthetic impulse, the unity of nature. "Natura non facit saltum". Deduction of reality from possibility. The bond of love. Ficino's optimism, as distinct from the pessimism of ancient neoplatonists. Idea of the perfection of nature, as distinct from its salvation.

zz214& "Each of Plato's and Plotinus' utterances corresponds to a creative insight and is accompanied by the signs of direct experience and inspiration. Ficino, on the other hand, is preceded by a thousand year tradition of Christian theology, in which the existence of intelligible entities was taken as a matter of course, and as a reiterated truth. His frequent use of the rich treasure of coined formulae placed at his disposal by that tradition is therefore readily understood. In contrast to those formulae, direct expressions of his own concrete experience are relatively rare…..

"In Plotinus…. The whole sphere of internal experience and contemplation is entirely separated by acts of sudden elevation for the preceding realm of ordinary experience as well as from the still higher state of transcendent consciousness. For Ficino, on the contrary, the clear cut separation of internal consciousness at its upper and lower limits has disappeared. For as we have seen it is connected with ordinary experience by a gradual transition; also on the upper limit there is no longer a sudden elevation towards transcendent consciousness. The degrees within the contemplation therefore necessarily assume a greater importance." (Kristeller - The Philosophy of Marsilio Ficino).

zz307 Iamblichus and Proclus as attempting to develop an understanding of how emanation is possible.

Consciousness of truth as the subjugation of error. Relate this to Kabbalistic thought and think of God creating servitors for himself. Also Ficinian speculations about the chain of being. Explication of self consciousness through the negation of negations. A strange notion which can seem so futile. But how else is bliss generated?

zz323 "The Pseudo Dionysius' manner of presenting his thought is very different from that of Proclus. It was one of Proclus' achievements to introduce a severe logical order into Neoplatonism. In his Elements of Theology for instance, he tries to show how his thesis can be deduced from a set of axioms which he takes as self evident The mystical aspect of Neoplatonism disappears in the rigid and elaborate hierarchy which separates the thinkers from the ultimate source of reality. The Pseudo-Dionysius was, by contrast, a mystic, given to assertion rather than argument, who veiled more than his identity in deliberate obscurity. " (Marenbon,)

Crowley too is a mystic given to assertion not argument. This may matter very little, argument may be the business of other people. But we can see one reason for the opposition he arouses. The mystics of Nietzscheanism.

zz73 Neoplatonism or esoteric philosophy. Answer to the religious or ideological question. Myth of continuity.

Ax 35 Erdmann on Neoplatonism.
All three tendencies share, however, in hatred or contempt for Christian teaching, whether Gnostic or anti-Gnostic, and regarding it as the enemy of science they place over against it heathenism as the ground of science. To heathenism, then, science owes so much that she comes to its defence with rational grounds, and seeks not point out in its myths combinations of ideas in historical garb. The logical metamorphoses which Homer there fore undergoes are the exact opposite of the transformations of abstract among the Gnostics.

Bd 129 Hegel said Neoplatonism might well be called neo-Aristotelianism.

189 Strauss (David) of interest because Renan says he agrees with him, Christianity presented differently from the Antichrist as a sort of synthesis of Greek philosophy, stoics, epicureans, neoplatonists

ba 136 Solovyev. Godmanhood, destiny of becoming the ideal. A real religious enthusiasm, deriving directly from Neoplatonism.

au 215 Corbin and Islamic angelology. All the neoplatonic thinkers working out the ways in which angels can exist.

Link to poem/

be 61 I see relations and parallels between Hegel and Proclus and Boehme, if not those I am supposed to see. Neoplatonic idea of procuring philosophical satisfaction by conceptual manipulation. Hegel’s equivocations about nothing. What could you do with that? you might ask. But see what Boehme does with it when talking about evil.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License