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438Fw: BMCR 2004.05.02, Alexandrine Schniewind, L'e/thique du sage

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  • Edward Moore
    May 1, 2004
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      From: <owner-bmcr-l@...>
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      Sent: Saturday, May 01, 2004 7:11 AM
      Subject: BMCR 2004.05.02, Alexandrine Schniewind, L'e/thique du sage

      > Alexandrine Schniewind, L'e/thique du sage chez Plotin. Paris:
      > Librarie Philosophique J. Vrin, 2003. Pp. 238. ISBN 2-7116-1616-9.
      > EUR 32.00.
      > Reviewed by John Dillon, Trinity College, Dublin (dillonj@...)
      > Word count: 927 words
      > -------------------------------
      > This monograph, a revision of the author's doctoral thesis, sets out to
      > examine the ethical position of Plotinus from the perspective of his
      > doctrine of the sage, the 'spoudaios ane^r', and in particular through
      > an exegesis of his tractate 'On Well-Being', Enn. I 4 [46]. The
      > doctrine of the 'spoudaios' in indeed an excellent perspective from
      > which to evaluate the nature of Plotinus' ethics, and S[chniewind] does
      > a fine job of setting out the chief issues. Plotinus' position is
      > notable, even within the Platonic tradition. He sees the 'true man'
      > (with which only the spoudaios is properly in touch) as that
      > 'undescended' part of the soul which remains in a state of unification
      > with Intellect. Anyone who is activated at this level has attained a
      > state of inner, god-like calm and should no longer be affected by
      > either passions or the accidents of external existence. It is in such a
      > state that true eudaimonia lies. The issue arising from this, which is
      > one on which S. finds herself somewhat at odds with this reviewer,
      > among others, is how far such a sage can have any real relation,
      > affective or pedagogic, with his fellow-men -- and thus engage in any
      > form of ethical praxis.
      > That is indeed a nice point, and I shall have a little more to say on
      > it presently. But first a survey of the contents of the work. In an
      > introductory chapter, S. sets out her stall, and provides also a useful
      > overview of previous scholarship on the topic of Plotinus' ethics.
      > Then, in Ch. I, she surveys the uses of the term spoudaios and the
      > various concepts of the spoudaios, or 'sage', first in Plato, but then
      > more particularly, in Aristotle and the Stoics. Here she identifies the
      > main -- and contrasting -- features of the 'wise man' in, especially,
      > Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics and in the reports of Stoic doctrine
      > taken from Stobaeus and from Diogenes Laertius (this latter culminating
      > in an impressive 'table of the qualities of the sage', pp. 40-2).
      > Plotinus, of course, is indebted to both schools for his concept of the
      > sage, though more to the latter. For the likeness of the sage to god,
      > certainly, and the concept of the sage as a kano^n and a metron (p.
      > 37), he borrows from Book X of Aristotle's EN. Nonetheless, it is the
      > apatheia of the Stoic sage that most attracts him -- though with the
      > significant qualification that that aspect of the sage which is free
      > from passions and affections is not the unitary soul of the Stoics but
      > rather the 'undescended', higher soul of his own system.
      > The core of the monograph is in fact a fairly close exegesis of Enn. I.
      > 4 [46]: On Well-Being (peri eudaimonias), and in Ch. II S. provides
      > some remarks preliminary to that. Here S. makes one very sound
      > observation, and one that is not so sound. It is helpful, I think, to
      > note (p. 55) that I 4 [46] can be viewed together with III 2-3 [47-8]:
      > On Providence, and indeed V 3 [49]: On the Knowing Hypostases and What
      > is Beyond, as constituting a late conspectus of salient issues in
      > Plotinus' ethics and his physics; not so fortunate, it seems to me, is
      > her suggestion (pp. 66-7) that the treatise is pitched at three
      > pedagogic levels: chs. 1-4, which are primarily doxographic, at an
      > outer circle of auditors, 5-11 at more advanced disciples, and 12-16 at
      > an inner circle of 'assistants', such as Amelius and Porphyry. I think
      > it highly unlikely that Plotinus was intending any such distinction,
      > though he does only gradually reveal the full complexity of his
      > position.
      > At any rate, the next four chapters (III: La de/finition du bonheur du
      > traite/ I 4; IV: La nature double de l'homme; V: L'homme heureux dans
      > la traite/ I 4; VI: Le spoudaios dans la traite/ I 4) in effect take us
      > through the tractate, focussing primarily on the uses of the terms
      > eudaimo^n and spoudaios, as well as (most interestingly) on the use of
      > the term allos anthro^pos, 'other man' to denote the 'inner man', or
      > higher consciousness of the sage. It is a useful exercise, and very
      > lucidly performed. Just one detail I would draw attention to here: in a
      > section on the 'joy and tranquillity' of the sage, where she notes that
      > P. uses the adjective hileo^s at 12. 8, she might have recognized that
      > P. is probably borrowing the term from Plato, Laws VII 792CD -- a most
      > interesting passage.
      > A further chapter surveys other uses of the term spoudaios throughout
      > the Enneads, notably certain passages in III 4, III 2, IV 3, III 1, IV
      > 4, III 8, II 9, and I 2, all of which serve to fill out in various ways
      > our view of the spoudaios. At various places she is concerned to
      > emphasise the concern shown by the sage, as Plotinus portrays him, for
      > the welfare of others, and that is something I would not deny; but it
      > remains nonetheless crucial, I think, that no concern for the
      > misfortunes of others can be allowed to interfere with the sage's inner
      > calm (cf. I 4, 32ff.). Plotinus' benevolence resembles, it seems to me,
      > that of the One itself, not that of Mother Teresa.
      > Finally, in a brief Conclusion, she summarizes her findings, and
      > appends a comprehensive bibliography and useful indices of passages
      > quoted and of the chief concepts discussed. I find the work a most
      > useful addition to scholarship on Plotinus' ethics, even if I remain in
      > disagreement with some of its conclusions.
      > -------------------------------
      > The BMCR website (http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/bmcr/) contains a complete
      > and searchable archive of BMCR reviews since our first issue in 1990.
      > It also contains information about subscribing and unsubscribing from
      > the service.
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