In this paper I offer an analysis of Plotinus’ argument for the existence of a quasi-psychic entity, the so-called ‘trace of soul’, that functions as an immanent cause of life for an organism’s body. I argue that Plotinus posits this entity primarily in order to account for the body’s possession of certain quasi-psychic states that are instrumental in his account of soul-body interaction. Since these quasi-psychic states imply that an organism’s body has vitality of its own , and Platonic souls (...) are no part or aspect of any body, Plotinus draws the conclusion that the soul must be a cause of the body’s life by imparting a quasi-psychic qualification to it. In so doing, Plotinus introduces elements of hylomorphism into Platonist psychology, and addresses a problem for the animation of the body that Platonic soul-body dualism may plausibly be thought to face. (shrink)
In this paper, I investigate the foundations of Plotinus’ innovative theory that prime matter is unaffectable. I begin by showing that Plotinus’ main arguments for this thesis (in Ennead 3.6) all rely upon the controversial assumption that the properties prime matter underlies are not properties of prime matter itself. It is then argued that prime matter’s privation of sensible qualities has its conceptual basis in an idiosyncratic understanding of form-matter composition generally, and its primary doctrinal basis in Aristotle’s critical reports (...) on the Platonists’ substratum in Physics 1.9. While Plotinus finds Platonic authority for unaffectible matter in the Receptacle passage of the Timaeus, it is Aristotle’s testimony that provides the crucial impetus for reading that text in this way. On this basis, Plotinus develops a Platonist conception of form’s inherence in matter with distinctively non-Aristotelian features. (shrink)
In developing his theory of aether in De Caelo 1, Aristotle argues, in DC 1.4, that one circular motion cannot be contrary to another. In this paper, I discuss how Aristotle can maintain this position and accept the existence of celestial spheres that rotate in contrary directions, as he does in his revision of the Eudoxan theory in Metaphysics 12.8.
Plotinus maintains that there is a single first principle, the One (or the Good), from which all other things derive. He is usually thought to hold this view on the grounds that any other thing’s existence depends on its participation in a paradigm of unity. This paper argues that Plotinus has a further, independent argument for adopting a single first principle, according to which principle pluralism is committed (unacceptably) to attributing good cosmic states of affairs to chance. This argument exhibits (...) similarities to ancient design arguments, but is used to draw the more radical conclusion that there is only one non-derivative existent. (shrink)
What does it mean to be free, and what are the metaphysical conditions for freedom? What are the prerequisites for being an agent who can be held responsible for their actions? What connection, if any, is there between freedom and responsibility? Ursula Coope poses these enduring questions to the Neoplatonists, who represent the dominant philosophical tradition in late antiquity, beginning with Plotinus in the third century AD and extending through figures such as Iamblichus and Proclus to Damascius and Simplicius in (...) the sixth century AD. Her book carefully presents earlier ways of thinking about freedom and responsibility that shape Neoplatonic ideas, lucidly explains the distinctive puzzles that arise within the framework of a Neoplatonic worldview, and provides illuminating and often groundbreaking reconstructions of their varied and ingenious responses to these puzzles. What emerges is a fascinating portrait of several centuries of reflection on her twin themes—one that is at once firmly embedded in metaphysical commitments far removed from our own yet responsive to concerns that will resonate with contemporary philosophers. The result is an enormously satisfying read and an extraordinary feat of philosophical interpretation. It deserves to be read not just by specialists in ancient philosophy, but by anyone interested in philosophical thought about freedom and responsibility.Central to Coope’s story is a ‘perfectionist’ conception of freedom, according to which an agent is free by being in control of achieving their good. As she explains, the roots of this notion of freedom are to be found in the political contrast between freedom and slavery. Plato would contribute to the extension of this originally political notion of freedom to the ability to do as one wishes and independence from external constraints. And this idea of freedom would ultimately take on its perfectionist sense within Stoicism, under the influence of the Socratic view that what one really wishes for is simply one’s actual good. For the Stoics, this perfectionist conception of freedom would imply that only the sage, who is in control of achieving his good by making wise practical choices, is truly free. Later, within Neoplatonism, it would be developed in two distinctive ways. First, Neoplatonists would identify the free activity of human beings primarily with wise intellectual activity, as the best good available to us, and as one that, unlike practical activity, is not demanded by un-wished-for external exigencies.1 Second, and more significantly, they would adopt the idea that divine and human agents achieve their good—and with it their freedom—by making themselves the kind of beings that they are.Coope begins her exploration of this theme with Plotinus’s discussion of the freedom of his absolutely simple first principle, the One (or the Good). (For Neoplatonists, the One is the ultimate source of all other existents through a causal series in which it produces a divine Intellect, Intellect produces Soul, and Soul produces the physical cosmos.) The One might seem to be a prime candidate for perfectionist freedom since, as the Good itself, it leaves nothing to be desired, and, as a first principle, it is not causally dependent on anything else. Yet its status as a first cause might also seem to imply that it is uncaused, and thus, that it is arbitrarily the way it is. Plotinus resists this implication by suggesting that the One is better thought of as causing itself to be as it wishes. This cannot be strictly correct, he concedes, since ‘self-making’ implies a complexity incompatible with the One’s pure simplicity. So Plotinus instead proposes, as a better, if still inadequate, approximation of the truth, the paradoxical idea that the One is an absolute (i.e., intransitive) act of making or wishing. As Coope perceptively observes, this bold strategy for affirming the One’s freedom takes the Euthyphro dilemma one step further by suggesting that, unless the nature of the good itself is self-determining, even love of the good is threatened with being of something arbitrary.While most Neoplatonists do not follow Plotinus’s attribution of freedom to the One, all agree that the divine Intellect produced by the One is paradigmatically free. This is so because Intellect is identical with an intellectual activity that is perfect and performed without impediment. But how can Intellect be free given that it depends on a higher cause, the One? According to Coope, Neoplatonists answer this question with an innovative account of how something can be both self-determined and subject to a higher power. On this account, the One produces an entity that makes itself an Intellect by seeking to apprehend—in the complex form of intellectual understanding—the perfection of its simple cause. In this act of self-making, Intellect attains perfectionist freedom not despite but because of its being subject to a higher power. One might worry whether the Intellect (or anything else) can be a genuine self-maker, on the grounds that the maker is always prior to and distinct from what is made. But Coope convincingly argues that the Neoplatonists address this concern by denying that Intellect’s self-making requires the maker and made to be two different things; rather, self-making is a single activity that at once makes itself complex and unifies its complexity, so as to become a single whole. This striking account of Intellect’s self-making—which Neoplatonists argue is only possible for a nonbodily entity—is, as Coope explains, grounded in two theoretical lines of thought. First, given the Aristotelian ideas that knowledge is the same as the essence known in the case of immaterial things and that essences are self-explanatory, it follows that Intellect’s activity is both self-knowing and self-causing. Second, for this self-causing activity to be fully self-knowing, it must provide itself with not only the complexity to be both a subject and an object of knowing, but also the unity to know itself as both knower and known.As for our souls, how do they achieve freedom despite being dependent on a higher power—namely, the Intellect that produces them? Coope argues that Neoplatonists offer different answers to this question. For Plotinus, our souls become free simply in virtue of assimilating their rational activities to the free activity of Intellect, something made possible by a transcendent intellectual part within themselves (their ‘free principle’). By contrast, later thinkers such as Iamblichus and Proclus hold that our souls are capable of freedom because, like Intellect, they are self-constituting entities that have an intellectual activity by nature.2 But if all rational souls have such an activity by nature, why don’t they achieve perfectionist freedom automatically? Here Proclus and Iamblichus take different paths. Iamblichus holds that this essential self-constituting activity of souls can come in degrees of perfection, whereas Proclus distinguishes between a soul’s perfect essential activity of self-constitution and its other, nonessential activities, which can be better or worse according to how well they conform to its essential activity.When Coope turns to responsibility (i.e., the idea that agents are legitimately subject to praise and blame for their actions), she shows that Neoplatonist philosophers take human beings to be responsible for their actions in virtue of their rational capacities for achieving perfectionist freedom. Following Plato, Neoplatonists take our souls to have originally come into bodies from a more divine place where they possessed an intellectual understanding that, though forgotten at embodiment, remains latent within them to be ‘recollected’. This Platonic view is reflected in the Neoplatonic idea that our rational souls are equipped with ‘inner resources’ (Coope’s term) that both enable us to bootstrap our way to goodness and make us responsible for failures to do so. These inner resources include not just the sources of the intellectual understanding within soul noted above, but also our rational capacities to access those sources of understanding. On this account, our souls’ self-improvement is self-reflexive in the sense that one part of our soul is improved by the contents of another. For example, for Plotinus, we are able to make ourselves good because our rational part is endowed with the conceptual resources needed to reestablish contact with our transcendent intellectual part (our ‘free principle’). For Proclus, by contrast, this ability depends on a rational faculty of opinion whose partial grasp of the principles of understanding enables us to correct our opinions and recover more completely the intellectual contents of our soul’s essential part. A stricter form of self-reflexive activity appears in sixth-century Neoplatonist accounts of the rational activity by which souls can change themselves for better or worse. On these accounts, rational judgments involve not just judging that p on the basis of some reason q, but also the assessment that we are correct to judge that p on the basis of q. As Coope explains, this self-reflexive character of reason’s judgments makes us responsible for them because it makes them, unlike some other cognitive states, responsive to our higher order evaluations of whether they are justified. As a result, we are in charge of changing our rational beliefs for better or worse.In addition to developing a compelling account of the centrality of self-reflexive activity to Neoplatonic accounts of freedom and responsibility, Coope offers interpretations of Neoplatonic responses to a number of related puzzles. Among them: how our independent agency is compatible with the Neoplatonic thesis that our souls are parts of a larger psychic entity (the so-called hypostasis Soul); how our freedom and responsibility can be reconciled with Neoplatonist theories of providence and fate; and how responsibility for our actions can be squared with suggestions in Plato’s Myth of Er that our prelife choices determine the course of our embodied lives. Coope’s treatment of these puzzles, like the rest of her book, consistently displays impressive historical sensitivity and philosophical acumen.Philosophers have often thought that freedom involves the ability to do otherwise, and many have taken this ability to be a prerequisite for responsibility. Others have thought that being free in the sense of not being compelled to action is a condition for responsibility. By presenting us with ancient conceptions of freedom as a demanding ideal of self-perfection, and of responsibility as predicated on an agent’s ability to be fully in control of realizing this ideal, Coope’s study invites us to entertain a different way of thinking about and connecting these topics—one with something interesting to say about the value of freedom and the psychological resources that we need to be responsible for what we make of ourselves. (shrink)
In this paper, we argue that Plotinus denies deliberative forethought about the physical cosmos to the demiurge on the basis of certain basic and widely shared Platonic and Aristotelian assumptions about the character of divine thought. We then discuss how Plotinus can nonetheless maintain that the cosmos is «providentially» ordered. -/- [Note: This paper is a French translation (prepared by Mathilde Brémond) of a paper that appears in A. Marmodoro and B. Prince (eds.), Causation and Creation in Late Antiquity (Cambridge, (...) 2015).]. (shrink)