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RE: [neoplatonism] Re: soul/body problem

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  • Arkadi Choufrine
    If I may join in crossing the boundaries : the late 60-s were largely influenced by Zen and related hedonism of the hippies. It was far from being perversion
    Message 1 of 61 , Nov 9, 2005
      If I may join in "crossing the boundaries": the late 60-s were largely
      influenced by Zen and related hedonism of the hippies. It was far from being
      perversion free ("sexually and otherwise"), as it seems to me. Although one
      might disagree, depending on what one considers "norm".


      From: neoplatonism@yahoogroups.com [mailto:neoplatonism@yahoogroups.com] On
      Behalf Of Melanie B. Mineo
      Sent: Wednesday, November 09, 2005 5:23 PM
      To: neoplatonism@yahoogroups.com
      Subject: [neoplatonism] Re: soul/body problem

      Well, good luck! Zen Buddhism (if I may be permitted to cross
      disciplines - an heretical step - for the sake of pedagogy) suggests
      that one becomes free not by resisting, but by embracing, and so do I.
      Intelligent hedonism is the order of the day. We see all manner of
      perversions, sexual and otherwise, as a result of body-hating
      asceticism - this is not the way. This conversation began with a
      question I posed to the group a few days ago, the tension Mike speaks
      of was brought into the conversation by my referring to John Dillon's
      essay "Rejecting The Body, Refining The Body" in Wimbush & Valantasis
      Asceticism), and he offered his own heretical position, right, Mike..?
      ;-) I agree w/ Dillon, Plato was not a particularly humane or
      realistic individual, and certainly not as great as Socrates.

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
    • Bruce MacLennan
      Hi Bob, Sorry for my slow reply to your thought-provoking comments; I was trying to finish a (not unrelated) paper by the end of the year. I ve taken the
      Message 61 of 61 , Jan 9, 2006
        Hi Bob,

        Sorry for my slow reply to your thought-provoking comments; I was
        trying to finish a (not unrelated) paper by the end of the year.
        I've taken the liberty of quoting your mail in extenso so that my
        comments will be clearer.

        On Dec 21, 2005, at 9:34 PM, Bob Wallace wrote:

        > But I believe that there's an important element in Plato (and I
        > imagine also in the Neoplatonists) that isn't being taken properly
        > into account by Jung or by you. (At least it isn't being taken
        > explicitly into account; something like it probably is taken into
        > account in practice by all of us.) This is the dimension of rational
        > inquiry into the good, together with the "ascent" to which that
        > inquiry gives rise.

        I think that the issues you have raised may hinge in part on
        different conceptions of the highest part of the soul, in particular,
        how is the nous related to the logistikon? If we take Plato's
        tripartite soul as a model, then the nous must go in the logistikon
        because it deals with the Ideas, not in the epithumetikon or
        thymoeides. However, from a Neoplatonic perspective the nous is the
        intuitive mind and has a non-inferential grasp of the Ideas;
        discursive reason (dianoia) is a lower faculty of the soul, limited
        by sequential inference (including dialectic). However, according to
        Proclus, even nous can yield only intellectual understanding of the
        archetypal Ideas, it cannot grant vision, contact, or union with them
        (for which theurgy is required). The latter have the character of
        direct experience (as does sensation), so they are more the starting
        point of rational analysis, rather than the end point. This is in
        fact Jung's approach: starting with the experience (dreams, active
        imagination, etc.), then analyzing it (including "amplification" by
        comparison with mythology etc.). Thus, the method is basically
        scientific but phenomenological in orientation, that is, directed
        toward empirical investigation of the objective structure of inner
        experience. So if you accept this view, the highest authority about
        the One (and the henads, gods, etc.) is not rational analysis, but
        the direct experience yielded by theurgy (with, of course, post hoc
        rational analysis).

        > You suggest, in fact, that a preoccupation with
        > "Good," as opposed to what's "beyond good and evil," is liable to
        > generate confusion in neurotheology; and I think that you link it to
        > an "anthropocentrism" which you appear to think that Neoplatonism, as
        > well as Jung, avoids. What, however, would Platonism be without its
        > identification of unity and the good as the highest authority or
        > reality?

        Ouch! You've hit me in my Achilles' heal, which is the
        identification of the One and the Good (but Plato was not to clear
        about it either, at least in my limited understanding). How can the
        Inexpressible One (to arrheton hen), which transcends Being
        (according to Plotinus and others), be called "good" or have anything
        definite predicated of it? Well, it's difficult to speak and reason
        about these things because the One is "inexpressible" (hence, again,
        the necessity of non-verbal knowledge through contact, assimilation,
        and unification). Plotinus, as I recall, says that the highest
        principle can be called "One," "Good," "Beautiful," and "True" only
        metaphorically, since strictly speaking it cannot be any of these
        things (which exist only at lower levels). The argument, as I
        recall, is that for anything to be something, for it to have *being*,
        it must have unity (be some *thing*), and so unity is a precondition
        of being. Therefore the One is good because it is the principle
        underlying the existence of anything. Causally, it is the beginning
        as well as the end (i.e., final cause) of all existence. Since it is
        the goal sought by everything, it is Good (because the good is
        defined as what each thing seeks by nature).

        This is, in my opinion, a rather abstract (non-moral) notion of
        goodness, which runs the risk of being confused with more familiar
        anthropocentric notions of moral goodness. (I suspect the scholastic
        orientation of the Neoplatonists obliged them to identify the Good
        with the highest principle, although they had advanced beyond the
        Platonic conception.) From the perspective of evolutionary
        neurotheology (as I understand it), the One, as encompassing the
        entire psychical-physical universe, can be considered "good" in that
        it is the sort of universe that permits the evolution of sentient
        creatures such as Homo sapiens. (If the laws of physics were just a
        little different from what they are, there would be little order in
        the universe and, in that sense, little being.) Remote as this
        notion of "the Good" is from human concerns, I think it has some
        implications for human behavior, which I'll try to address later.

        > This is what I had in mind earlier when I mentioned Plato's
        > introduction of the tripartite soul in Republic iv. He says
        > explicitly there that the great result of harmonizing the three parts
        > is that "from having been many things he becomes entirely one"
        > (443d). He then goes on, in books vi-vii, to analyze just how the
        > "rational" part, the recognition of whose authority by the other two
        > parts makes this "unity" possible, functions. It investigates what's
        > truly good (505d); and this investigation is described, of course, in
        > the cave allegory and in the corresponding images of "ascent" in the
        > Symposium and elsewhere. Thus, what makes it possible for the soul to
        > become "one" is precisely the rational investigation, by its
        > "rational part," of what's truly good.

        A couple of points here. First, as I remarked above, if we are going
        to use the tripartite model, then the nous goes in the logistikon,
        although the nous is not verbal/rational (as would be suggested by
        the term "logistikon"). So, while the harmonizing of the parts is
        achieved by the logistikon, this is not entirely a process of
        rational investigation, for achieving unity (as opposed to talking
        about it) requires contact, assimilation, and unification with the One.

        This leads to the second point, which is that there are two kinds of
        unity: unification of the individual soul within itself and
        unification of the individual soul with the One (which, although
        reflected in the individual soul, is objective and independent of the
        individual). The former (which is what you are describing) is
        directed towards harmonization of the parts of an individual's soul,
        and a certain amount of this can be accomplished by rational
        investigation. However, that cannot achieve the higher
        harmonization, which is with the One (which is, in some sense,
        "good"). I would describe this as the unification with the essence
        of humankind, and beyond that with the essence of existence.

        I think it is significant that the philosopher in the cave does not
        limit himself to a rational investigation of what he and his
        colleagues hypothesize to be the cause of the shadows they observe.
        Rather, he frees himself from his bonds, escapes from his prison, and
        ascends so that he can experience the source of light directly.
        Characteristically, words are inadequate to express his experience to
        those still bound in the cave. However, if he can convince some of
        his colleagues to make their own ascents, then they can compare notes
        and perhaps together achieve some real understanding of the sun.
        With this increased understanding they can live in greater harmony
        with reality as it is, rather than being misled by the familiar
        shadows. (This is part of the function of theurgy, as I understand it.)

        > This, of course, is also essential to the "ethical" role of the
        > "ego," to which you allude several times in your papers, without
        > giving any account (I think) of where the "ego" gets whatever ethical
        > standards it may apply, in its dealings with the "gods" or the other
        > parts of the soul. If you don't give the ego standards (whether of
        > prudential "good" or of ethical "good" or both) that the gods or
        > other parts of the soul have some reason to respect, how can the ego
        > hope to succeed in unifying the soul?

        I think there are several sources for ethical norms. One is the
        Superego, which, from the perspective of evolutionary Jungian
        psychology, is a subconscious complex (formed perhaps around an
        innate, archetypal core), which incorporates the norms we have
        uncritically internalized from our families, communities, cultures,
        etc. (According to Jung, complexes, such as the Superego, can be
        experienced as autonomous personalities capable of possession &
        projection: daemons.) The Superego is the source of our feelings of
        what is "obviously" right or wrong, feelings of guilt, and so forth.
        The Ego, in contrast, deals with consciously acquired norms, which
        may be subjected to critical inquiry. Indeed, what we often do in
        ethics is to expose the norms in the Superego and to subject them to
        rational analysis (this, especially, in secular ethics). Over time,
        these conscious ethical commitments become incorporated in the Superego.

        But what is the raw material of this rational analysis? There are
        different answers. Many evolutionary psychologists would say that it
        is an understanding of the selective (dis-)advantage of various
        behaviors in Homo sapiens and related species. I think this is one-
        sided, since its perspective is external and behavioral, and it
        ignores the internal and phenomenological dimension. Therefore it is
        important to descend into the depths of the collective unconscious
        (or to ascend into realm of archetypal Ideas and the One), in order
        to discover the eternal, transpersonal phenomenological structure of
        the psyche. This does not provide ethical norms readymade, but it
        does reveal the invariable reality in which and with which our
        consciously devised norms must operate. (Arguably, the limited
        effectiveness of many ethical systems is a consequence of ignorance
        of this reality, or of ignoring it.) Further, repeated ascents are
        required so that conscious norms can be developed through a
        continuing dialogue with the archetypes. The approach is
        experimental: we make observations, analyze them rationally, make
        hypotheses, and go back for more observations. But without direct
        experience (a grounding in the Ideas), it is just word spinning.

        > It sounds from your discussion
        > of the divine "One" (in the Neurotheology paper) as though unity, for
        > you, is a function simply of the cosmos as a whole. Likewise in your
        > account of the mystical ascent to unity with the One, in your
        > Neoplatonism paper, it sounds as though the ascending soul must
        > "strip itself", in effect, of its own identity, in order to be
        > "unified with the one," in which case one would have to ask, what is
        > it that is being "unified with the one"? The process sounds more like
        > the substitution of the One for the human individual, than like any
        > existing thing's being unified with the One.

        Yes, at the very deepest levels, the collective unconscious is the
        universe (experienced from an interior perspective,
        phenomenologically, however); in this I am following Jung. However,
        from a practical perspective, it is not so useful to go so deep (or
        high); the level of the archetypal Ideas or henads that are more
        characteristic of Homo sapiens is more relevant to most of our
        spiritual and ethical concerns.

        I agree that in the theurgical ascent itself, there is movement from
        the individual and personal to the collective and universal. It is
        not precisely stripping away the individual aspects, since of course
        they do not go away; rather, the individual aspects are quieted, in
        order to approach more closely to the eternal and universal,
        according to the principle "like knows like." However, the ascent is
        always followed (so long as we live!) by a descent, in which the more
        individual aspects of the soul reawaken. The experiences of the
        ascent can then be integrated by the conscious mind (the Ego), in
        order to achieve greater harmony with the One.

        Jung used the term "individuation" for the life-long process of
        achieving greater harmony with the One (the archetypal Self, in his
        terms). The term is appropriate because through this process a
        person's psyche becomes undivided (individuus) and he or she grows
        into the unique individual they are destined to become (that is, the
        proper goal to be pursued, what is in reality "good" for that
        person). The latter follows from their increasingly conscious
        articulation and harmonization of the relation of their individual
        soul with the archetypes and the One. As a result, the soul of the
        individuated person is in fact unified, but that includes unification
        with its collective, transpersonal parts (reflections participating
        in the henads and the One).

        > Whereas if I'm right
        > that the Republic describes the achievement of unity by the human
        > individual as involving her ascent beyond her initial desires and
        > opinions, to the knowledge of what's truly good, then I think we can
        > see how the human being does indeed "strip off" aspects of her
        > initial character, in order to achieve unity, but in doing so she
        > unifies her parts (the three aspects of her own functioning), rather
        > than replacing herself with something that was initially other than
        > her.

        I agree with this so far as it goes, but it is only the initial stage
        of the ascent, since it is taking place at the personal level; it
        does not rise to the transpersonal level, where contact can be made
        with the living, eternal archetypal Ideas. Without this experiential
        grounding, discursive reasoning runs the risk of juggling terms that
        have no real empirical content (as also happens in science when a
        theory is ungrounded in observation).

        > And Plato might well be thinking that this achievement of unity
        > by individual souls is what Unity as such (The One and The Good) is
        > all about--what it consists in.

        I will have to leave Plato's intentions to others, for I really don't
        feel qualified to address them. Neoplatonists such as Iamblichus and
        Proclus, however, clearly saw a need for theurgy to ascend above the
        levels reachable through dialectic (which already advances beyond
        discursive reason but not so high as nous). Plato certainly would
        not be the first or last to think (mistakingly, in my opinion and
        Jung's) that he can reason his way to the Good! (Of course, I'm not
        saying reason is unnecessary, only insufficient on its own.) Indeed
        Proclus' ascent proceeds by the power of the three Chaldean virtues
        in succession: love (eros), truth (aletheia), and trust (pistis);
        Plato seems to recognize only the first two (and it is the third
        which guides and empowers theurgy). If I recall correctly, Peter
        Kingsley (APMM) argues that Plato took the Pythagorean-Neoplatonic
        tradition onto an intellectualist detour, and so he is something of
        an anomaly, but I will have to leave evaluation of that (to my mind,
        plausible) claim to the experts. In any case, with the hindsight of
        Jungian psychology, I think the Neoplatonists were closer to the
        truth than Plato.

        > Obviously the story I'm telling needs to be fleshed out in a lot more
        > detail. But I hope you can see at least a couple of points at which
        > someone who's interested in these features of Plato's argument--and
        > the Ascent (as in the Cave) is after all just about the single most
        > central theme in Plato's entire historical influence--might be
        > dissatisfied with your account.

        Yes, although that does not mean he said the last word on the
        Ascent. "Dear is Plato..."

        > At the beginning of your
        > Neurotheology paper you say that your approach demonstrates the
        > "inevitability of transcendental religious experience." I don't think
        > you return to that particular word ("transcendental"); I take it that
        > the experiences that you discuss in the paper are "transcendental,"
        > perhaps, in that they involve the individual's dealing with forces
        > ("archetypes," complexes, etc.) that affect far more than just
        > herself. They "transcend" her in the sense that their realm of
        > effectiveness is much larger than her.

        I would call them transcendental in the sense that they are
        spiritual, numinous, transpersonal, objective, and effectively
        eternal. By "spiritual" I mean that they are interior experiences
        rather than exterior (sensory), phenomenological rather than
        physical. By "numinous" I mean that special psychological quality
        that alerts us to the heightened spiritual significance of an
        experience. By "transpersonal," I mean that their structure is
        collective, shared by all people and uniting individual souls, as all
        the branches of a tree have a common trunk. By "objective" I mean
        that the phenomena are empirical, stable, and public (from the
        standpoint of phenomenological investigation). By "effectively
        eternal" I mean changing not at all or very slowly (at evolutionary
        time-scales). I believe that the extension of the concept
        "transcendental" as I am using it coincides substantially with its
        use in spiritual, mystical, and religious contexts.

        My use of "transcendental" also alludes to Jung's concept of the
        "transcendent function." He wrote (CW 8, par. 145):

        "The tendencies of the conscious and the unconscious are the two
        factors that together make up the transcendent function. It is
        called 'transcendent' because it make the transition from one
        attitude to another organically possible, without loss of the

        That is, the transcendent function effects the integration of the
        conscious Ego and the unconscious mind, comprising the personal
        unconscious (complexes) and the collective unconscious (archetypes);
        it acknowledges the reality and importance of complexes (daemons) and
        archetypes (gods). Elsewhere (CW 9 i, par. 524) he wrote,

        "How the harmonizing of conscious and unconscious data is to be
        undertaken cannot be indicated in the form of a recipe. It is an
        irrational life-process which expresses itself in definite
        symbols. ... In this case, knowledge of the symbols is indispensable,
        for it is in them that the union of conscious and unconscious
        contents is consummated. Out of this union emerge new situations and
        new conscious attitudes. I have therefore called the union of
        opposites the 'transcendent function'. This rounding out of the
        personality into a whole may well be the goal of any psychotherapy
        that claims to be more than a mere cure of symptoms."

        Symbols transcend the opposition of conscious and unconscious; they
        form the bridge from the conscious Ego to the archetypal Ideas and to
        the One. This indicates, by the way, from a psychological
        perspective, the essential role that signs and symbols (sunthemata,
        sumbola) play in theurgy (and the individuation it facilitates).

        > But they don't, apparently,
        > transcend her in the sense that they have a rational authority that
        > is higher than the authority of her personal desires or opinions.
        > Power, they've got; rational authority, as distinct from power, they
        > don't seem to have. Whereas the whole subject of Plato's
        > epistemology, as I understand it, and likewise of his account of the
        > soul (and its rational part in particular), is rational authority:
        > what's really good, or really true, as opposed to what has the power
        > (at any given moment) to influence or control our actions or our
        > beliefs.

        On the contrary, they certainly transcend her personal desires and
        opinions, because they are transpersonal and eternal, but it is not
        by virtue of their *rational* authority. Dare I say they have divine
        authority? Less contentiously, experience trumps reason in the
        phenomenological domain in the same way that it does in the
        scientific domain. In both cases rational accounts have to evolve in
        dialogue with direct experience. In the spiritual domain, theurgy is
        one source of such experience. Indeed, a key element of the
        "Copernican Revolution" of Jungian psychology (as Anthony Stevens
        describes it) is to move the Ego (with its personal desires, goals,
        appetites, opinions, theories, etc.) from the center of the
        psychological universe, and to discover that it is just one of many
        complexes orbiting the Self (the psychical image of the One); that
        is, the Ego is not calling the shots, as we like to believe (out of
        ignorance of the Self), but is subject the gravitational field of the
        Self. Of course, the Ego should not abdicate all control, but
        individuation facilitates a unique articulation of the life
        trajectory defined by the individual soul (with its conscious norms)
        in interaction with the One. This leads to the unfolding of an
        individual destiny.

        > One way to point the issue between us would be to ask: Can you
        > explain what Plato means by "really good," at Republic 505d, in a way
        > that coheres with your account of the soul as dealing simply with (as
        > it were) "powers" that affect it, as opposed to the sort of hierarchy
        > or ascent of rational authority that I'm referring to?

        I think he is talking about the One and its emanations in the henads
        and archetypal Ideas. Regardless of my quibbles about calling the
        One "Good," a conscious relation with and understanding of these
        transcendent objects (or this divine realm) is essential for
        individuation and for living the true bios philosophikos. (And, to
        get back to Plato's topic, it would be wonderful if our law-givers
        were individuated philosophers!) The principle disagreement is
        whether dialectic is sufficient to obtain such genuine understanding,
        or whether theurgy is also required. (Do I hear Porphyry also
        rattling his chains?)

        I hope I have made some sense. Thanks again for your very thought-
        provoking comments, which gave me an opportunity to think through
        some of these issues more carefully.

        Best wishes,
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