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Plotinus, Hegel and QT

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  • John H Spencer
    ... generalizations which are held to replace the proper study of his system) is an unfortunate feature of the current landscape- although this complaint could
    Message 1 of 7 , Jul 11, 2005
      >> It's good that you raised Hegel. However, Corrigan's book, as the title
      >> indicates, is about Plotinus. What may not be as well-known among
      >> contemporary philosophers (though perhaps I am wrong) is that Hegel was
      >> very influenced by Neoplatonism.

      >The hastiness with which Hegel is dimissed (and/or the sweeping
      generalizations which are held to replace the proper study of his system)
      is an unfortunate feature of the current landscape- although this complaint
      could be uttered concerning many an important philosopher.

      Hi Julien, it seems as if you thought I was dismissing Hegel, or perhaps
      you were just making that comment in general. It is true that Hegel, and
      Proclus and many others are not yet given proper consideration, but be sure
      that I certainly was *not* dismissing Hegel, nor was Corrigan. I was merely
      pointing out that Corrigan's book was an introduction to *Plotinus*, and
      that Plotinus, as I explain below, had some kind of influence on Hegel.
      Corrigan's comments at the end of the book give a brief, basic indication
      to the Neoplatonic neophyte of the general influence Plotinus has had
      throughout history. It is a text meant to help students understand
      Plotinus' thought, and the chapter containing the brief quotes I mentioned
      is very short, for it is, as I said, a general indication of influence
      rather than an in depth comparative historical study.

      Hi Peter and Michael, thanks for the interesting contributions here and for
      the very helpful references.

      Re: Michael's point about Hegel, Lucas Siorvanes agrees: 'Hegel knew the
      Platonic Theology and praised Proclus above all the Neo-Platonists,
      superior to Plotinus' (Proclus: Neo-Platonic Philosophy and Science, 1996,
      p. 38-39). However, since Proclus was, among other things, building upon
      the work of predecessors such as Plotinus, he was certainly influenced by
      Plotinus, and so we can say that Plotinus also, perhaps more indirectly,
      influenced Hegel. I don't see anything wrong with that (except note my
      caveat at the end concerning the notion of *influence*).

      Regarding Plotinus' possible influence on Goethe, Siorvanes writes: 'The
      English Romantics found support in Neo-Platonism for their rejection of the
      rigid determinism and materialism that came in the wake of the Industrial
      Revolution. In this respect, they were joined by German Romantics and
      Idealists, such as Goethe (1749-1832) and Schiller (1759-1805)' (Ibid., p.
      Does this mean that Goethe read Plotinus in detail and explicitly utilized
      his philosophy? I don't know, probably he didn't, but it does not seem
      unreasonable to say that Plotinus, directly or indirectly, either had some
      influence on him or at least that Goethe found some kindred ideas in
      Plotinus. Logically speaking, just because Goethe does not often mention
      Plotinus' name it does not necessarily follow that Plotinus had no (or even
      only minimal) influence on him. Proclus does not always mention Plotinus by
      name when drawing from or criticizing one of his ideas. Perhaps a bit
      controversially, it seems to me that Descartes does not mention Plato's
      name in equal proportion to the latter's influence on the former. In any
      case, I think we would need to do serious comparative studies of the
      *ideas*, along with searching for direct references to names and further
      historical studies, to put us in a better place to judge the extent of
      influence. Certainly many of us have been deeply moved (influenced) by only
      a particular passage in some philosopher, writer or poet etc. Could the
      same not have happened to Goethe when he read (even some of) the Enneads?
      (For a different approach to Goethe, see Heisenberg's interesting essay
      'Goethe's View of Nature and the World of Science and Technology' in his
      book 'Across the Frontiers', 1974.)

      I think it is fundamentally important to know the history of ideas for
      practically innumerable reasons. By studying this area, to state just one
      simple example relevant to my own research, we discover that the Platonic
      tradition was at the foundation of the beginning of modern science, which
      is something that many contemporary philosophers seem not to know or have
      chosen to ignore. So I am the greatest fan of classics and history and my
      work is deeply indebted to those scholars--indeed I am attempting to
      propagate Neoplatonism in the sciences and in philosophy departments.
      However, as a philosopher I am far more concerned with the ideas themselves
      rather than who came up with them or who influenced who. So, a balance is

      To make this more philosophical: the very notion of being influenced or
      having an influence is, admittedly, problematic. We can be influenced by
      our *misunderstanding* of an author, or we can understand and be influenced
      by an author but then apply their ideas in ways that the author would not
      have accepted. So how do we measure (is that the right word?) the degree of
      influence? What difference is there between being influenced by someone and
      being inspired by someone? How much do we need to understand an idea to be
      influenced by it? For example, we are certainly influenced by developments
      in quantum theory--from the technology we have because of it to the popular
      books comparing it to mystical ideas etc, but how many people actually
      understand it even superficially? Finally, many of us have had the
      experience of coming up with what we thought was an original idea only to
      discover later that someone else hundreds or thousands of years ago had the
      same or similar idea. If we write our idea it may look as if we were
      influenced by the previous author concerning this particular idea when in
      fact we really were not. It is then likely that future historical scholars
      in 2000 years would falsely conclude that the later author got his idea
      from the former author.

      In my own case, I simply wish to show contemporary philosophers and
      scientists who do not know the Neoplatonists that this tradition has had an
      extensive influence (setting aside the difficulties in defining this word),
      from the sciences to theology, and this is important to do because many
      philosophy departments have neglected this tradition (and Hegel and many
      others). Fortunately, things seem to be slowly changing.

      Best wishes

      John H Spencer
      President, Interdisciplinary Forum
      Department of Philosophy
      University of Liverpool

      > Le 9 juil. 05, à 02:13, John H Spencer a écrit :
      >> >
      >> > I wonder why he doesn't make the more obvious parallel, which is
      >> with
      >> > Hegel (with whom, furthermore, conceptual filiation is more
      >> likely). In
      >> > both cases, the idea seems to go back to Plato's Sophist.
      >> >
      >> > Cordially,
      >> >
      >> > Julien
      >> > --
      >> >   Julien Villeneuve (epistrophe(at)sent.com)
      >> >   Ph.D. Student, Philosophy, McGill University
      >> >   "It is difficult to know whether you know something or not."
      >> Aristotle,
      >> > Posterior Analytics 76a26
      >> Hi Julien,
      >> It's good that you raised Hegel. However, Corrigan's book, as the
      >> title
      >> indicates, is about Plotinus. What may not be as well-known among
      >> contemporary philosophers (though perhaps I am wrong) is that Hegel
      >> was
      >> very influenced by Neoplatonism. Neoplatonism has influenced a diverse
      >> range of thinkers throughout the centuries, including Hegel.  I will
      >> present the smallest of samples: 'Leibniz and Spinoza developed
      >> entirely
      >> opposite views of substance on Neoplatonic principles and methods.
      >> The word
      >> "monad", in Leibniz's Monadology, had been a favourite of ancient
      >> Athenian
      >> Neoplatonism...Goethe, Schelling, Holderlin, and Hegel all admired
      >> Plotinus' ideas and transmitted this admiration to the British
      >> Idealists...' (Corrigan, 2005, p. 238).
      > M.C. This strikes me as unlikely or at least exaggerated. In the case
      > of Hegel, he did have a favorable opinion of Plotinus, but his
      > philosophy is based to a much greater extent on Proclus, whose analysis
      > of the Parmenides he called ? die Spitze der neuplatonischen
      > Philosophie ". When the first two modern editions of Proclus appeared
      > in 1820 (Creuzer's at Frankfurt, Cousin's at Paris), both were deciated
      > to Hegel. According to Creuzer (Ause dem Leben eines alten Professors,
      > p. 124), Hegel cared much less for Plotinus than for Proclus
      > As far as Goethe is concerned, a quick search through the 14 vols. of
      > the Hamburg edition of Goethe's works reveals not a single mention of
      > his name, nor is he mentioned in the Conversations with Eckermann. I
      > find precisely two mentions of Plotinus in Goethe's voluminous works :
      > in a letter (Briefe Bd.16-20) he cites a passage from Porphyry's Life
      > of Plotinus, and in another he thanks a correspondent for sending him
      > the Enneads. That's it, so far as I can tell.
      > As far as Neoplatonism and quantum physics goes, the eminent Parisian
      > nuclear physicist Bernard D'Espagnat ends his Traite de Physique et de
      > Philosophie (Paris 2002) by reporting a dialogue with a colleague on
      > which philosophy best agreed with the most recent findings of quantum
      > physics : the colleague chose the philosophy of Plotinus, d'Espagnat
      > chose Damascius.
      >> This is a topic on which I am sorely ill-informed, but as it happens a
      few years
      back I translated into English a piece by Werner Beierwaltes, concerning
      Schelling's interest in and use of Plotinus. He shows that Schelling knew
      Plotinus (or at least parts of the Enneads) well and responded to them
      directly. The piece is in "Plato's Timaeus as Cultural Icon," ed. by
      Reydams-Schils. Beierwaltes is someone who has thought a lot about the
      relationship between German idealism and Neoplatonism, so if you are
      in this (and can read German) his writings would be a good place to look.

      Best wishes,
      Peter Adamson

      Philosophy Dept.
      King's College London
      >> best wishes
      >> john
      >> John H Spencer
      >> President, Interdisciplinary Forum
      >> <www.liverpoolidf.com>
      >> Department of Philosophy
      >> University of Liverpool
      >> >
      >> >> Message: 1
      >> >>     Date: Thu, 07 Jul 2005 22:32:05 +0100
      >> >>     From: John H Spencer <J.H.Spencer@...>
      >> >> Subject: Re: Re: Arieti and Neoplatonism
      >> >>
      >> >> Greetings,
      >> >> The book by Malin is very good in some places, though I don't 
      >> think he
      >> >> understood Plotinus very accurately (not saying that I do!), but he
      >> >> certainly was moving in the right metaphysical direction. I am in
      >> the
      >> >> middle of some intense writing on my thesis, so don't have time to
      >> go
      >> >> into
      >> >> details of my own research, but I can give a good quote from Kevin
      >> >> Corrigan
      >> >> from his excellent new book.
      >> >>
      >> >> 'Plotinus develops a kind of logic of the indeterminate in which
      >> the
      >> >> principle of non-contradiction no longer strictly applies because
      >> no
      >> >> principle of identity can be found in matter's indeterminacy as
      >> such.
      >> >> Instead of making true or false statements, we have to approach the
      >> >> puzzling character of indeterminancy by combining apparently
      >> opposite
      >> >> statements: x both is and is not.  Plotinus does not, of course,
      >> >> anticipate
      >> >> quantum physics, but there is a certain similarity between the two
      >> >> insofar
      >> >> as contemporary physics has been compelled to think and speak of
      >> >> probabilities instead of precise scientific measurements and to
      >> >> recognize  the indeterminacy of descriptions such as wave and
      >> particle,
      >> >> or again,  velocity and position' (Corrigan, 'Reading Plotinus: A
      >> >> Practical  Introduction to Neoplatonism', 2005, p. 118.)
      >> >>
      >> >> Corrigan does not develop this theme but made a very accurate
      >> >> observation  of the similarity. This similarity follows the
      >> standard
      >> >> Copenhagen  interpretation but may not map on so easily with Bohm's
      >> >> hidden variables or
      >> >> the many-worlds interpretation...but that is a different story.
      >> Most
      >> >> physicists, rightly or wrongly, work with some version of the
      >> Copenhagen
      >> >> view.
      >> >> best wishes
      >> >
      >> >>
      >> >
      >> >
      >> > Yahoo! Groups Links
      >> >
      >> >
      >> >
      >> >
      >> >
      >> >
      >> ?  Visit your group "neoplatonism" on the web.
      >> ?  To unsubscribe from this group, send an email to:
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      > Michael Chase
      > (goya@...)
      > CNRS UPR 76
      > 7, rue Guy Moquet
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