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The Philosophy of Plotinus, vol. 2

1917 to 1919
University of St. Andrews

Inge’s account of Plotinus’ thought is highly commendatory and partisan. He sees the encounter with neoplatonic philosophy as decisive for Christian identity. Plotinus offers a general, philosophical account of mysticism, which Inge finds helpful for his theory of religions. The key influences on Plotinus are held to be Pythagoras and Ammonius Saccas, although of course Plato is the towering figure who haunts all of Plotinus’ thinking. Inge expounds Plotinus’ thought at length, focusing on the two basic triads of the Absolute, nous and psyche, and spirit, soul and body. The spiritual world is all that truly exists, but the world of matter has a certain derivative existence, gained from the fact that material objects are patterned after eternal forms (although Inge seems to feel that Plotinus would have done better to discard the concept of the forms).

Because of this, what matters about human life is the soul and its relation to the world-soul. Our destiny is an act of becoming in which our individual souls are to be reunited with the world-soul. This is the closest we may come to the Absolute. The Absolute itself is best named as ‘one’, ‘goodness’ (understood in terms of teleology, not morality) and ‘beauty’. However, all names are inadequate to the Absolute, and so Plotinus commends apophatic language as most appropriate. Inge agrees, and indeed feels that Plotinus has been rather too positive in his language about the Absolute at times.

Plotinus developed his great and austere vision as the Roman Empire crumbled around him; writing immediately after the Great War, Inge feels himself in a similar cultural situation and so finds in Plotinus a helpful guide to the religious vision that may speak to his culture.

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