Daniela Taormina, Dominic O`Meara and C. Riedweg (eds.) L

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Daniela Taormina, Dominic O`Meara and C. Riedweg (eds.) L
Book Reviews / The International Journal of the Platonic Tradition 5 (2011) 313-341 335
Daniela Taormina, Dominic O’Meara and C. Riedweg (eds.) L’Essere del Pensiero.
Saggi sulla Filosofia di Plotino. Bibliopolis, 2010.
Taormina’s volume on Plotinus’ views on the Intellect and the intelligible is a very
welcome addition to the fast growing body of literature on Plotinus’ philosophy.
More broadly, the volume enriches our knowledge and understanding of ancient
metaphysics and ancient epistemology in two ways: by looking at Plotinus’s views
in constant engagement with the views of his predecessors, and by forward-looking
at the influences that Plotinus had on his successors.
The book comprises nine essays by distinguished Plotinian scholars from
Europe and Brasil, and is accompanied by a substantial and helpful introduction
by Taormina herself. In addition to Taormina, who authored one of the essays as
well, the contributors are: Schniewind (Lausanne), O’Meara (Freiburg), Emilsson
(Oslo), Kühn (Bochum), Chiaradonna (Roma III), Ninci (Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa), Pagotto Marsola (Sãn Paulo), and Tornau (Würzburg).
Of the nine essays, some take forward lines of investigation first explored by
Emilsson (Plotinus on Intellect OUP 2007; Plotinus on Sense-Perception CUP
1988), while others make a fresh start altogether. This is an appealing feature of
Taormina’s volume: it builds on existing scholarship, and offers at the same time
stimulating suggestions in new directions.
An additional strength of the volume as a whole is its comprehensive bibliography, which draws on Italian, French, German and Anglo-American scholarship
and spans the XX and the XXI century literature.
The wealth of international expertise that the volume draws on is reflected in
the multiple languages the essays are written in: Italian, English, French, German,
and Portuguese. But this feature of the book will inevitably be an obstacle to its
wide circulation and full fruition. Even for the reader equipped with more than
one foreign language, it is going to be taxing to switch from one language to
another. It would have been helpful if the abstracts at least had all been in the same
language, perhaps preferably Italian since about half the book is in Italian.1
The fragmentation of the volume in terms of languages is also a fragmentation
in terms of methodologies and topics: some of the essays are argumentative and
engaging with theoretical problems in Plotinus’ thought; some others are more
textually based and concerned with the transmission of ideas—from Plotinus to
his successors, or from his predecessors to Plotinus. While the dialogue between
these different approaches is very welcome and enriching, the reader might feel
that in this volume not enough of a common ground has been worked out.
The quotations in what follows are only either in English or in Italian.
© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2011
DOI: 10.1163/187254711X589831
Book Reviews / The International Journal of the Platonic Tradition 5 (2011) 313-341
The introduction by Taormina sets out a series of open-ended questions on the
metaphysics and function of the Intellect in Plotinus; she thus sketches a helpful
framework for the reader, and motivates the investigation that the volume’s contributors pursue. In addition, the introduction complements the volume’s bibliography by making reference to a few contributions that came out in press after the
present volume’s essays had already been submitted.
The opening essay, by Schniewind, focuses on the metaphysical status of the
intelligible, with particular reference to Enneads V 4; and addresses the worry that
Plotinus in that text might be conflating the intelligible and the One. Schniewind
claims the worry is dispelled once we understand that the Intellect in the first stage
of its generative process temporarily designates the One as intelligible.
O’ Meara’s essay offers an account of the mystical experiences of the soul
described in Enneads IV 8, by referring back to IV 7: every soul which searches for
knowledge and truth—argues O’ Meara—discovers its very own nature as being
that of an intelligible reality. This is how we are to understand the union with a
transcendent Intellect that Plotinus reports to have experienced in his life a number of times. It is an experience that other souls can share in, and it is epistemic
rather than mystical in nature.
Emilsson engages with the question of whether Plotinus’s thought is a form of
Idealism—a question that was originally raised in broad terms with respect to
Greek philosophy by Williams (1981) and Burnyeat (1982); and answered negatively by them. Emilsson argues that Plotinus is indeed an idealist, on the ground
of his identification of real being with thought. But Plotinus’ Idealism is closer to
Hegel’s rather than Berkeley’s and Kant’s; in Emilsson’s words,
Contrariamente a Berkley and Kant, l’idealismo di Plotino non ha a che
vedere con le relazioni che gli esseri umani hanno con il mondo esterno . . .
Ritengo che Plotino fosse un idealista in relazione al mondo sensibile. In
questo egli era piu’ vicino a Hegel. (88)
On the other hand, Emilsson argues, Plotinus shares with Berkeley and the postBerkeleyan idealist tradition the view that what is, is what is experienced as known
by a subject (esse est intelligi); which is motivated by the concern of securing the
possibility and reliability of knowledge.
Ritengo che [questa sia] la motivazione comune che spinge Plotino e Berkley a
identificare il reale con il contenuto interno di un soggetto che conosce. (90)
Following on Emilsson’s essay, Kühn addresses the challenging—seemingly paradoxical—claim that is the summer beam of Plotinus’ epistemology: that knowledge
of the external world is knowledge of oneself. Plotinus’ position is investigated in
Book Reviews / The International Journal of the Platonic Tradition 5 (2011) 313-341 337
comparison and in contrast with Plato’s, Aristotle’s and the Stoics’ epistemology.
The reasons why looking at Plotinus’ predecessors is helpful is that Plotinus’ tenet
on knowledge of the world being knowledge of oneself is best understood as a
response to the Skeptics’ critique of those earlier thinkers—on the ground that
they cannot adequately explain how knowledge of the external world is securely
attainable. When one knows oneself, the knower and the known are the same in
being, but one knows himself qua knower; this is how, according to Kühn, Plotinus accounts for the relation between the (external) objects of knowledge and the
subject knowing them.
Chiaradonna contributes to the volume a lucid discussion of Plotinus’ arguments for a metaphysical divide between intelligible and sensible reality, with particular reference to Enneads IV 3. The position is Platonic but the arguments and
terminology employed by Plotinus to defend it are Aristotelian. The result is interesting, and is evidence for Plotinus’ originality as a thinker:
Il dualismo tra sostanze intelligibili e corpi, la cui generale ispirazione platonica e’ manifesta, viene formulato . . . facendo ricorso a concetti e termini
desunti in gran parte dalla dottrina aristotelica della sostanza, concetti che
sono impiegati per esprimere un pensiero profondamente diverso da quello di
Aristotele e che ne rovescia alcuni presupposti fondamentali. (135, my italics)
By tracking Plotinus’ creative use of Aristotle’s arguments and terminology in
defense of a Platonic position Chiaradonna offers an excellent illustration of Gerson’s point that Plotinus’ originality as a thinker (‘even if it was not his intention
to say fundamentally new things and . . . he regarded himself an expositor and
defender of the philosophical position whose greatest exponent was Plato himself ’) ‘must be sought for by following his path’; that is ‘in [his] defending Plato
against those who, Plotinus thought, had misunderstood him and therefore
unfairly criticized him’.2
Ninci looks into Plotinus’ account of the relationship between a thing and its
essence (its dioti), with particular reference to Enneads VI 7 and 8. In the intelligible
realm this is a relation of identity because the ideas are identical with the whole
Intellect, on which they depend. By contrast, sensible particulars depend on something other than—and spatially separated from—themselves. Thus, says Ninci:
Le parti che compongono il sensibile sono separate; di conseguenza, la parte
la quale incarna il “perché” di un’altra . . . non può che risultare in fin dei conti
che separata da lei. (145)
Book Reviews / The International Journal of the Platonic Tradition 5 (2011) 313-341
But on the ground that the sensible world is a likeness of the intelligible world
there is also a sense in which sensible particulars are identical to their essence, ‘pur
se in un contesto di separazione spaziale’. (Ninci’s essay is rather lengthy (75 pages)
and yet ought to include a more argumentative explanation of how sensible things
are related to their essences, particularly in relation to the difference between likeness and identity).
Pagotto Marsola engages with the Parmenidean claim reported in Enneads V 1
that ‘Being is Thought’, and investigates its meaning and significance within Plotinus’ account of Intellect. Pagotto Marsola proposes to understand Parmenides’
and Plato’s influences on Plotinus on the model of a (Hegelian) dialectic movement in which Plato’s Parmenides brings about a move forward by which Parmenides’ thought is denied by Plotinus, but also somehow retained in the final
account of his metaphysics of Intellect.
In addition to the volume’s introduction, Taormina contributes to the volume
an essay focusing on the significance within Plotinus’ thought of a well-known
metaphor of Platonic origin:
La sensazione è per noi messaggera, mentre lui [scil. l’intelletto] è, in rapporto
a noi, re. Tuttavia anche noi regniamo, quando siamo conformi a lui.
Taormina argues that Plotinus adopts the metaphor in Enneads V 3 not to latch
on to the Stoic-Skeptics debate on the reliability of knowledge grounded on sense
data (as e.g. Morel suggests), but rather to take forward the ongoing discussion
within Plato’s Academy on the higher faculties of the soul and their functions.
The last essay in the volume, by Tornau, looks backwards—as it were—and
argues that Augustine’s doctrine of the inner word derives from the Stoic distinction between inner and uttered speech via the interpretation that Plotinus and the
Neoplatonics had given of the Stoic position. (The reader might have reason to
wonder why this (lengthy) essay is included in the collection, as it lacks not scholarly value, but close thematic proximity to the others).
Plotinus was one of the most influential thinkers in antiquity, after Plato and
Aristotle—Taormina’s volume brings us closer to understanding his views in core
areas of his philosophy, namely the metaphysics of Intellect and the nature of the
Anna Marmodoro
Corpus Christi College, Oxford
[email protected]
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