Plotinian Henadology

Kronos - metafizyka, kultura, religia 1 (5):143-159 (2016)
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Abstract

Plotinus’ famous treatise against the Gnostics (33), together with contemporary and thematically related treatises on Intelligible Beauty (31), on Number (34), and on Free Will and the Will of the One (39), can be seen as providing the essential components of a Plotinian defense of polytheism against conceptual moves that, while associated for him primarily with Gnostic sectarians overlapping with Platonic philosophical circles, will become typical of monotheism in its era of hegemony. When Plotinus’ Gnostics ‘contract’ divinity into a single God, they not only devalue the cosmos for its multiplicity and diversity, but also multiply intelligible principles unreasonably. This is because they have foreclosed the distinction, which is to become increasingly explicit in the later antique Platonists, between the intelligible and that which is given existentially, the domain belonging to Plotinus’ indeterminate multiplicity of ‘intelligible Gods’, as opposed to the dialectically determinate number of intelligible principles. Plotinus is prescient in recognizing that incipient monotheism threatens to erase the distinction between philosophy and theology, and between both of these and psychology, the final outcome of which can only be solipsism or nihilism. The defense of polytheism is seen in this fashion to be essential to the preservation of the space for philosophical discourse.

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Edward Butler
New School for Social Research

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