The World Explored, the World Suffered Education Issue Nr. 32 July 2020 - Page 28

Plotinus's position is problematically characterized by Brett in the following manner: "This Neo-Platonism is, therefore, no mere reproduction of Platonic doctrine. It is to a large extent an independent construction by reason of the new standpoint adopted. Plotinus has a new idea of rational life as something distinctively subjective. Out of this arises his virtues and vices: for it leads to a deeper view of thought and at the same time makes impossible that trans-subjective use of thought on which he builds a metaphysics, not unlike the vagaries of Gnosticism." Subjectivizing Plotinus in this way is indeed problematic. Is Brett really suggesting that Plotinus decided to ignore the great chain of being argumentation contained in both Plato and Aristotle in favour of an idea of the "subjective" that was not in currency at the time? We also know, by the way, that when virtues and vices arise out of a subjectivity thesis, ethical relativism is the inevitable consequence: a consequence which both Plato and Aristotle would have dismissed as a misunderstanding of the nature of ethics. Brett, as we pointed out previously ignores the resemblance of the Platonic position to that of Aristotle's and this raises a question about the validity of categorizing Plotinus as a Neo-Platonist. Perhaps, then, the litmus test of the correctness of Brett´s categorisation lies in Plotinus' view of the soul and its relation to the external material, world. In a section entitled "The Activities of the Soul" we find the following account of sensation --the link between the external world ad the soul: "Sensation is defined as the reception of forms in the matter which accompanies soul. It is the process by which forms are placed at the disposal of the soul. Knowledge is always an activity of the soul: sensation as such is not knowledge but a condition of the attainment of knowledge about material things. The independent character of the soul appears still more clearly in the sphere of knowledge. The soul uses the organs of sense as its instruments: it is itself unaffected: external impressions are made upon the sensitive soul by objects, but these impressions involve no self-recognition, no consciousness. The impressions are stored in the affective soul until the cognitive soul turns toward them and chooses to behold them. Plotinus here modifies the Aristotelian tradition. He deprives the senses of any function but that of transmitting forms which are the potential objects of cognition...When the soul exerts its activity and turns towards the things of sense, it perceives: this action may be described as facing toward the external world."