Plotinus and Aristotle on the Simplicity of the Divine Intellect

Dissertation, University of Edinburgh (2013)
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Aristotle and Plotinus both demonstrate the existence of a first principle as cause of the existence of all things. Aristotle puts forward that this first principle is a divine intellect which thinks on itself, and in being the highest being in complete actuality and without potentiality, it is also absolutely simple. Plotinus, on the other hand, sees reason to assert that the divine intellect can not be absolutely simple but a duality of some sort, and thus the first principle, as a cause of unity for all things, must be beyond the divine intellect and thus beyond being in being, itself, absolutely simple. Comparing Plotinus to Aristotle, Plotinus’ position appears odd at the outset given that he also holds to the divine intellect being completely in act and that it thinks on itself. Why thinking should be dual even when it is self-referential and unified in its activity is not apparent, and so Aristotle’s position seems the more coherent one. Yet, through an analysis of both positions, this dissertation proposes that Plotinus better accounts for the problem of self-intellection as requiring some form of distinction in thought while maintaining an identity between the subject and object of thought. If absolute simplicity is an essential attribute to being the first principle, Plotinus’ position is ultimately more consistent in positing a first principle beyond the divine intellect while also holding to a more coherent understanding of thinking with his understanding of divine intellect as a duality instead of an absolute simplicity.



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