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1932Fw: BMCR 2008.01.08, Eyjo/lfur Kjalar Emilsson , Plotinus on Intellect

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  • Edward Moore
    Jan 9, 2008
      > Eyjo/lfur Kjalar Emilsson, Plotinus on Intellect. Oxford: Oxford
      > University Press, 2007. Pp. 232. ISBN 978-0-19-928170-1. $65.00.
      > Reviewed by Andrew Smith, University College Dublin
      > (andrew.smith@...)
      > Word count: 1584 words
      > -------------------------------
      > To read a print-formatted version of this review, see
      > http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/bmcr/2008/2008-01-08.html
      > -------------------------------
      > In his introduction Eyjo/lfur Emilsson explains that this book owes a
      > good deal to a number of articles that he had previously published. But
      > the book is all the better for that period of reflection and
      > discussion, which has produced an extraordinarily stimulating analysis
      > of what is probably the most central and engaging aspect of Plotinus'
      > metaphysics. A useful introduction prepares us for the contents of the
      > four chapters into which the book is divided. The first, on 'Emanation
      > and Activity', examines the origin of Intellect as a product of the
      > ultimate principle, the One. The core of the chapter is a detailed
      > analysis of Plotinus' doctrine of 'double activity' which is his most
      > philosophical exposition of the causal relationships obtaining between
      > transcendent realities. The second chapter, 'The Genesis of Intellect',
      > engages with the reasons why and how it is that the product of the One
      > is an Intellect. New light is here thrown on the concepts of procession
      > and return, the way in which the second 'Hypostasis' is a plurality and
      > what sort of 'self-thinking' constitutes its cognitive activity. The
      > third chapter, 'Intellect and Being', moves away from Intellect's
      > relationship with the One to clarify the internal structure of
      > Intellect on its own terms: the identity of thinker and object of
      > thought, and how an object of thought is an intellect. The final
      > chapter, 'Discursive and Non-discursive Thought', raises the question
      > of the nature of the kind of non-discursive thought that Plotinus
      > ascribes to Intellect and how this relates to the discursive thought,
      > which he recognises as being the normal cognitive activity of human
      > beings. If this book is primarily about Intellect as a universal
      > principle, this last chapter reminds us that Plotinus also thinks that
      > each individual is endowed with an intellect which in some way brings
      > him into contact with the universal Intellect. Thus, what is said about
      > Intellect is also of direct relevance to the human individual, and
      > Plotinus' analysis of the cognitive activity of the divine Intellect is
      > both illuminated by and illuminates our understanding of our own mental
      > activities. It is worth noting at this point Emilsson's advance apology
      > for his general approach, which, he feels, may be perceived as falling
      > between the two stools of modern philosophical analysis and the
      > traditional philological approach to the history of philosophy. I found
      > his approach an admirable and judicious combination of both methods. He
      > always keeps close to the text and fully appreciates the intellectual
      > context of Plotinus' concepts and style of philosophising, whilst at
      > the same time he can deepen our understanding of the text by posing
      > questions inspired by modern philosophical concerns.
      > It is difficult to do justice to the abundance of interpretive ideas in
      > this book. Thankfully there is a useful index of passages discussed,
      > which will make it easier for the reader to use the volume whenever
      > reading the Enneads. I will limit myself to pointing out some of the
      > ideas which I found most engaging. Emilsson rightly identifies the
      > theory of 'double activity' as of central importance for Plotinus'
      > metaphysics. With this theory Plotinus accounts for the production of a
      > lower reality as an activity derived from its prior as a by-product of
      > the higher reality's own innate activity which constitutes its essence
      > (as heat is produced from fire). The theory raises a number of issues
      > which E. explores with clarity. For example, are there really two
      > activities or one, if you push the consequences of Plotinus' metaphor
      > of the derived activity as a 'trace' as in the case of walking and
      > leaving a footprint? Does Plotinus contradict himself when referring
      > sometimes to the inner activity of One and elsewhere denying that the
      > One has an activity? Such 'contradictions' are, argues E., more
      > apparent than real; what Plotinus is denying is that the One has an
      > activity whose cause lies outside itself, whilst as the dunamis panto^n
      > it is the active cause of everything. After reviewing the evidence for
      > the origin of the theory (Aristotle and primarily Plato are mentioned
      > here), E. concludes that the theory is largely Plotinus' own. The
      > external activity of the One is not quite yet an Intellect but what E.
      > calls an inchoate Intellect, which to become fully formed Intellect
      > must 'return' to contemplate the One. E. probes relentlessly the reason
      > why it should 'return' and is, I think, right to suggest that it is
      > already endowed with an indeterminate desire (p.74). His analysis,
      > always supported by the text, is helpful in dispelling the impression
      > we may easily have of a rather abstract, mechanical and even gratuitous
      > metaphysical construct. Also clear and helpful is E.'s distinction
      > within Intellect of two kinds of plurality: the duality of thinker and
      > object of thought, and the plurality of objects of thought. He neatly
      > demonstrates that there is a connection between the two kinds of
      > 'otherness' (which constitutes difference and, therefore, plurality)
      > and that for Plotinus these are in the end two aspects of the same
      > plurality. This becomes clearer with his examination of the nature of
      > the reflexive thinking of Intellect (110f). In addition E. argues that
      > although Plotinus owes much, as previous interpreters have pointed out,
      > to Aristotle, his Intellect is, unlike that of Aristotle, a fully
      > reflexive self-thinker in the sense of thinking of itself as an I. His
      > analysis of self-thinking here is an advance on previous good work on
      > the topic.
      > He also sees that the strong contrast in V.5.1. of sense perception and
      > intellectual vision presents a problem. Not only is intellection often
      > described in terms of vision but V.5.1 appears to suggest that in sense
      > perception we see only an image of the external object, whereas
      > elsewhere Plotinus is not so disparaging of sense perception as to
      > adopt what is virtually an antirealist position. E. is here revisiting
      > a point raised in his book on sense perception in Plotinus (Plotinus on
      > Sense Perception, Cambridge 1988) and one which has excited some
      > controversy. His interpretation here is more nuanced and attractive. He
      > argues that V.5.1. is deliberately more extreme than usual in
      > formulation in order to make a strong point about the uniqueness of
      > Intellect's grasp of its object. But far from contradicting his normal
      > view about the status of the object in sense perception, it can be
      > shown that V.5.1 complements what he says elsewhere. To demonstrate
      > this, E. attractively applies the double activity theory to Plotinus'
      > theory of sense perception. The senses, in perceiving what in the
      > external world is the form (external activity of the logos) in matter,
      > become aware, in a sensible mode, of the transcendent logos (internal
      > activity), which is the direct cause of the immanent form. To the
      > extent that the senses have this, admittedly limited, access to the
      > logos they grasp the cause/essence of the perceived object. In the case
      > of Intellect the grasp of essence is at its own level and is therefore
      > a clearer vision. Even if it might be difficult to accept all of E.'s
      > interpretation here, certainly this method of interpretation of
      > Plotinus by Plotinus adds richness to the debate and sharpens our
      > alertness and sensitivity in reading the text.
      > Another area of difficulty is found in Plotinus' apparently
      > contradictory statements about the priority of Being to Thought/
      > Thought to Being. But this is readily dispelled once we understand that
      > they are co-equal. Can we say that even the inchoate intellect is prior
      > to Being? Not even that, since it is no less potential intellect than
      > Being is potential Being. This conclusions leads to a sensible
      > discussion of the meaning of 'potentiality' in the intelligible world.
      > In the final chapter on discursive and non-discursive thought, E.
      > concerns himself primarily with trying to determine what Plotinus means
      > by non-discursive thought rather than with the more general question of
      > whether there can be such a thing. One of the key issues in recent
      > debates concerns the prepositional nature of Intellect. E. here steers
      > course through the disagreement of Lloyd, who denies complexity and
      > therefore propositionality, and Sorabji, who accepts complexity in
      > Intellect and therefore its propositional nature. (Sorabji, however,
      > distinguishes this propositionality from the propositional nature of
      > discursive thought, which is inferential, whereas Intellect deals in
      > non-inferential statements or definitions of Forms.) E. argues that
      > each of these views is flawed in that they equate complexity with
      > discursivity. Yet there is no doubt that Intellect is complex. Equally,
      > Plotinus appears to deny in many passages that it entertains
      > propositions. But, E. argues, when Plotinus refers to protaseis,
      > axiomata or even lekta (the latter only in V.5.1) he may have
      > understood them as representational, and so denying 'the
      > representational nature of sentences rather than propositional
      > structure as such' (p.191). This is a useful discussion and a good
      > example of how an application of distinctions, which, E. carefully
      > warns us, were probably not available to Plotinus himself, may help us
      > to navigate problems of interpretation for which our own non-Plotinian
      > concepts are at least partly responsible.
      > This is a book that has as much to teach us about methods of
      > interpretation as it does to help us to understand some essential
      > issues in the Enneads. Not the least contribution to the utility and
      > readability of the volume is the generous citation of all passages
      > discussed together with the Greek text in the footnotes. This format
      > makes it easy to use as a monograph, but its index of passages will
      > also provide those reading Plotinus ready access to a wealth of
      > intelligent and stimulating interpretations of many difficult sections
      > of the Enneads.
      > -------------------------------
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