Tag Archives: Plato

Plotinus – First Ennead, Tractate III: On Dialectic [The Upward Way]

In this tractate, Plotinus discusses how a metaphysician should apply the philosophical practice of dialectic to assist in gaining an understanding of God, essentially raising one’s consciousness so as to become more godlike.

The Oxford Dictionary defines dialectic as the “inquiry into metaphysical contradictions and their solutions.” Plotinus goes into a deeper explanation of how dialectics are applied in the search for ultimate Truth and knowledge of the Divine.

It is the Method, or Discipline, that brings with it the power of pronouncing with final truth upon the nature and relation of things—what each is, how it differs from others, what common quality all have, to what Kind each belongs and in what rank each stands in its Kind and whether its Being is Real-Being, and how many Beings there are, and how many non-Beings to be distinguished from Beings.

Dialectic treats also of the Good and the not-Good, and of the particulars that fall under each, and of what is the Eternal and what the not-Eternal—and of these, it must be understood, not by seeming-knowledge [“sense-knowledge”] but with authentic science.

This is a lot to digest, so let’s identify the key points.

First, according to the dialectic method as applied to metaphysics, the only way to come to an understanding of divine Truth is through careful analysis and comparison between two opposites. Think of the yin and yang symbol. The whole is made up of two different halves, each the opposite of the other, yet containing a seed of the other. So, when Plotinus is talking about understanding Being by comparing Real-Being with non-Being, it would seem that he is describing the comparison between the Forms as posited by Plato with the manifestations of those archetypal Forms in this reality.

But then Plotinus takes this to the next step, which is knowledge of God, or as he states, the Eternal. In order to come to a complete understanding of God, one must experience direct contact with God and compare that with that which is not God, presumably the Soul which exists within each of us, the Soul being from God, but not God.

This is probably enough for today. Meditate on this a little and I will have another installment up soon.

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Plotinus – First Ennead, Tractate II: On Virtue

In this tractate, Plotinus describes how virtue enables us to become godlike.

He begins by asserting that while “virtue is one thing, the source of virtue is quite another.” The source of virtue is the Supreme God, but since the Supreme is perfection, virtue does not exist within the realm of the Divine.

So with us: it is from the Supreme that we derive order and distribution and harmony, which are virtues in this sphere: the Existences There, having no need of harmony, order or distribution, have nothing to do with virtue; and, none the less, it is by our possession of virtue that we become like to Them.

Plotinus goes on to state that “our concern is not merely to be sinless but to be God.” Since “man is the very being that came from the Supreme,” the goal of being virtuous is to purify our being and return to our divine state.

Plotinus concludes this tractate by pointing out that we should not model ourselves and our virtues on the examples of virtuous people, such as saints. Instead, we should look directly to the source of virtue in order to return to our divine nature.

For it is to the Gods, not to the Good, that our Likeness must look: to model ourselves upon good men is to produce and image of an image: we have to fix our gaze above the image and attain Likeness to the Supreme Exemplar.

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Plotinus – First Ennead, Tractate I: The Animate and the Man

This tractate explores the connection between the body and the Soul, focusing on the question of where emotions and experiences reside. Basically, determining whether emotions like fear and courage are experienced by the Soul or by the physical body.

Plotinus establishes that the Soul is immortal, and since it cannot be threatened by the physical danger, it cannot be the source of these emotional states.

Now what could bring fear to a nature thus unreceptive of all the outer? Fear demands feeling. Nor is there a place for courage: courage implies the presence of danger. And such desires as are satisfied by the filling or voiding of the body, must be proper to something very different from the Soul, to that only which admits of replenishment and voidance.

Plotinus then goes on to argue that humans possess what he terms the Animate, which is essentially a combination of a physical body with the immortal Soul.

Now this Animate might be merely the body as having life: it might be the Couplement of Soul and body: it might be a third and different entity formed from both.

Plotinus later explores the question of perception, inquiring into whether the Soul can perceive things in the physical realm. He posits that the Soul perceives sympathetically, essentially picking up reverberations from what the body experiences on the physical plane.

The faculty of perception in the Soul cannot act by the immediate grasping of sensible objects, but only by the discerning of impressions printed upon the Animate by sensation: these impressions are already Intelligibles while the outer sensation is a mere phantom of the other [of that in the Soul] which is nearer to Authentic-Existence as being an impassive reading of Ideal-Forms.

Based upon this quote, it appears that the Soul, being divine in origin and immortal, has direct knowledge of the Platonic forms. The Soul thereby is able to identify the sensations from the physical world because of their connection to the ideals existing within the realm of forms. This reminds me of how, in music, a string will vibrate when a note of the same key is played on a different string. For example, if you play a D note on the A string, the D string will also vibrate.

That’s all I have for this tractate. We will look at the next one soon.

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“The Six Enneads” by Plotinus: Introduction

I have been considering doing a blog series on Plotinus for a while. Now seems like a good time to do so. I had previously read some of his work, but never the complete Enneads, which was something I had endeavored to do. I was first introduced to Plotinus in college when I was fortunate enough to study W.B. Yeats under the guidance of the late Prof. Phillip Marcus, who was considered to be “one of the world’s leading Yeats scholars.” Prof. Marcus assigned passages from Plotinus to the class to help us better understand the complex occult symbolism in Yeats’ work.

Here is a little background information for those who are unfamiliar with Plotinus.

Plotinus was a major Hellenistic philosopher who lived in Roman Egypt. In his philosophy, described in the Enneads, there are three principles: the One, the Intellect, and the Soul. His teacher was Ammonius Saccas, who was of the Platonic tradition. Historians of the 19th century invented the term neoplatonism and applied it to Plotinus and his philosophy, which was influential during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Much of the biographical information about Plotinus comes from Porphyry’s preface to his edition of Plotinus’ Enneads. His metaphysical writings have inspired centuries of Pagan, Jewish, Christian, Gnostic, and Islamic metaphysicians and mystics, including developing precepts that influence mainstream theological concepts within religions, such as his work on duality of the One in two metaphysical states.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Prophyry was a disciple of Plotinus. Prophyry stated that Plotinus’ goal was “’…intimate union with the God who is above all things’ and testified that during the time he knew him Plotinus ‘attained this end four times.’” Union with God once in a lifetime is amazing; four times is almost unfathomable for me.

At this point, it is worth considering the structure of this work. I think this is important because I suspect there is a mystical symbolism in the structure of the text itself.

The word “enneads” comes from the Greek word “ennea,” which means nine. So essentially, an ennead is a group of nine. Each of the six enneads contains nine tractates, which, as we have seen already deal with the three metaphysical principles (the One, the Intellect, and the Soul ) that comprise Plotinus’ philosophy. This gives us a 3-6-9 structure. Now, I am not going to go into detail about the mystical significance of this number combination, but suffice to say that Nikola Tesla asserted that “If you only knew the magnificence of the 3, 6 and 9, then you would have the key to the universe.”

I think this is enough of an introduction for now. Going forward, I will be publishing a blog post for each of the tractates, which should be a total of 54. If you have any interest in following along, I will be using the translation by Stephen MacKenna and B. S. Page. Hopefully, some of you will read along and join in a discussion.

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“The Roots of Europe” by Umberto Eco

In this short essay, included in the book Turning Back the Clock, Eco provides a brief summary of how Christian Europe assimilated ideas and traditions from ancient and pagan cultures.

In our current society, the adoption of elements from other cultures is now deemed “cultural appropriation” and is definitely something that is frowned upon. But historically, this has not been the case, as Eco points out, and in the past ideas and traditions were shared and incorporated, the result of which was the blossoming of ideas and persistence of traditions.

Europe has assimilated Greco-Roman culture in law, philosophy, and popular beliefs. Often with a certain nonchalance, Christianity absorbed pagan myths and rituals and forms of polytheism that linger on in popular devotion. It wasn’t only the Renaissance that stocked up on Venuses and Apollos as it embarked on the discovery of the ancient world with its ruins and manuscripts. The Christian Middle Ages built its theology on Aristotle’s thinking, rediscovered by the Arabs, and while it knew nothing of Plato, it knew a lot about Neoplatonism, which had a huge influence on the Fathers of the Church. Nor could we conceive of Augustine, the greatest Christian thinker, without the absorption of Platonic ideas. The very notion of empire, which lies at the roots of a thousand years of struggle among European states, and between states and the Church, is Roman in origin. Christian Europe elected Latin as the language of holy ritual, of religious thinking, of law, and of university debate.

(Turning Back the Clock: p. 270)

Personally, I am OK with exploring ideas and traditions from other cultures, and incorporating those that resonate with me on a spiritual and intellectual level. But I will credit those other cultures and give them the respect and acknowledgement they deserve. And this is a very important thing to keep in mind. I believe it is acceptable to learn from other cultures and to incorporate elements for the advancement of humanity as a whole, but it is not permissible to steal from another culture as a way of diminishing or damaging that culture. Cultures are living organisms that benefit from diversity. Respect and consideration are critical, though. And if you are ever in doubt, best err on the side of caution.

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Thoughts on “Crito” by Plato

This short dialog is included in The Last Days of Socrates which I originally read in college (and yes, I still have my old copy). It takes place while Socrates is in prison awaiting execution, and his friend Crito offers to help him escape and leave Athens. The two discuss whether it is right to do something that is wrong if something wrong is done to you, ultimately concluding that it is not justified, that the ideal of the social contract is more important than an individual’s self-interest. Essentially, Socrates would not break the law by escaping prison even though he was wrongly convicted, because upholding the ideal to which he agreed to live mattered more than his life.

Reading this in a time of social unrest as a result of individuals being frustrated with an unjust legal system raised a lot of questions for me, particularly: At what point does the social contract become invalid? If the laws themselves are just, but the people enforcing and applying those laws are unjust, is it right to respond unlawfully to foment social change which is clearly in the best interest of society? These are not easy questions to grapple with and I do not feel equipped to address them, but I felt I would put them out there for individuals to contemplate on their own.

There are a couple passages worth sharing and considering.

SOCRATES: I only wish that ordinary people had an unlimited capacity for doing harm; then they might have an unlimited power for doing good; which would be a splendid thing, if it were so. Actually they have neither. They cannot make a man wise or stupid; they simply act at random.

(Last Days of Socrates: p. 81)

There are some interesting things to think about here. First, it seems that Socrates is asserting that a person’s ability to do good is equal to that person’s ability to do wrong, and vice versa. This is important, especially in our current world of social media where people tend to view others as either good or bad, depending upon how that persons actions or ideologies correlate with the person making the judgment call. In our drive to squeeze everything down to a Tweet or a meme, we’ve lost the ability to recognize the complexity and range of scope that every individual possesses.

The other thing that struck me about the previous quote is Socrates’ claim that ordinary people “simply act at random.” At first glance, this seems rather insulting, but upon further reflection, one begins to see the truth in the statement. The problem with many people in the world is that they react to situations without taking the time to adequately think through the ramifications of their actions. A wise person would pause, consider the situation, and come to a logical conclusion. Conversely, a stupid person would pause, consider the situation, and come to an illogical conclusion. Too many people do neither. They react without consideration, essentially acting at random, as Socrates would claim.

Later in the dialog, Socrates debates whether it is best to listen to public opinion or to defer to a single authority.

SOCRATES: In that case, my dear fellow, what we ought to consider is not so much what people in general will say about us but how we stand with the expert in right and wrong, the one authority, who represents the actual truth. So in the first place your proposition is not correct when you say that we should consider popular opinion in questions of what is right and honorable and good, or the opposite.

(ibid: p. 86)

Socrates builds on this to establish that the law is the one authority that represents truth and that the public opinion that he should break the law by fleeing prison is the wrong course of action. But this again leads back to my quandary, which is, at what point does public opinion outweigh the law and previously agreed-upon social contract? It is a really difficult question, and one worthy of analysis via Socratic Method. But that is beyond the scope of this post, so I will leave you with the questions to ponder.

This dialog is very short (a mere 16 pages), but evokes a lot of questions relevant to our society today. I encourage you to give it a read. I suspect you can find a digital copy online for free.

Thanks for stopping by and for reading and thinking.

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“American Gods: The Moment of the Storm” by Neil Gaiman: Issue #4

I didn’t write about the last couple issues, not because they weren’t great (they were!), but because they didn’t include any quotes that I thought were worth looking at more closely. But this one certainly did.

Early in this issue, Shadow is entering the realm of the dead, after being sacrificed on the World Tree. He meets a cat woman, who seems to be some sort of spirit guide in the underworld. When Shadow inquires about her nature, her response is very intriguing.

Shadow: What are you? Who are you people?

Cat-woman: Think of us as symbols — we’re the dream humanity creates to make sense of the shadows on the cave wall.

This immediately made me think of Plato’s allegory of the cave from The Republic. Everything we perceive in this reality is but a shadow of a form that exists in another plane of existence. And we cannot comprehend the forms in their true essence, so we must approach them through the use of symbolism, which allows our subconscious mind fleeting glimpses of understanding, impressions of what thrives beyond our limited scope of awareness.

I know this is heavy stuff, and Gaiman’s work is very complex. But that said, he is a master storyteller, so he presents heady material within the structure of fun and imaginative tales.

That’s all I have to share for today. Thanks for stopping by.

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“King Solomon’s Mines” by H. Rider Haggard: A Hero’s Journey into the Subconscious

I picked this book up on a whim, basically because it was on sale and I had heard of it, and also because I liked the character of Allan Quatermain (the protagonist in this book) from the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The notes on the back cover also state that this book influenced the Indiana Jones movies. All in all, it seemed like something I should read.

It’s basically a story about a small group of adventurers in Africa who go on a quest to find the fabled diamond mines of King Solomon. The writing is great, the story is exciting, and the imagery is dazzling; but what I found most fascinating about this book is the symbolism concerning the archetypal hero’s journey into the underworld.

For me, the hero’s journey into the underworld is symbolic of a person’s exploration of the hidden realms of the subconscious mind and is frequently associated with images of death and rebirth. This book is brimming with these types of symbols.

Before the intrepid crew sets out, Sir Henry Curtis lets everyone know that this journey they are about to undertake is the strangest on which a human can embark.

“Gentlemen,” said Sir Henry, presently, in his low, deep voice, “we are going on about as strange a journey as men can make in this world. It is very doubtful if we can succeed in it. But we are three men who will stand together for good or for evil to the last. And now before we start let us for a moment pray to the Power who shapes the destinies of men, and who for ages since has marked out our paths, that it may please Him to direct our steps in accordance with His will.”

(p. 53)

As they set out on the journey, Quatermain attempts to describe the mountain landscape, symbolic of the border realm between the two states of consciousness. But because this lies on the border of the subconscious, it is ineffable and beyond the ability to describe in words.

To describe the grandeur of the whole view is beyond my powers. There was something so inexpressibly solemn and overpowering about those huge volcanoes—for doubtless they are extinct volcanoes—that it fairly took our breath away. For a while the morning lights played upon the snow and the brown and swelling masses beneath, and then, as though to veil the majestic sight from our curious eyes, strange mists and clouds gathered and increased around them, till presently we could only trace their pure and gigantic outline swelling ghostlike through the fleecy envelope. Indeed, as we afterwards discovered, they were normally wrapped in this curious gauzy mist, which doubtless accounted for one not having made them out before.

(p. 61)

Consciousness is eternal, and a symbol that frequently is used to represent the continuity of consciousness is the ourosboros, or the snake devouring its tail. This symbol is tattooed upon the body of Umbopa.

“Look,” he said: “what is this?” and he pointed to the mark of a great snake tattooed in blue round his middle, its tail disappearing in its open mouth just above where the thighs are set into the body.

(p. 103)

Later, Quatermain contemplates the eternal nature of the soul, or the subconscious.

Truly the universe is full of ghosts, not sheeted churchyard spectres, but the inextinguishable and immortal elements of life, which, having once been, can never die, though they blend and change and change again for ever.

(p. 132)

When the adventurers finally enter the cave, they marvel at the forms, the strange creations of the subconscious, reminiscent of the forms in Plato’s cave. These forms are described as strange, since they exist beyond the realm of our ordinary waking consciousness.

Sometimes the stalactites took strange forms, presumably where the dropping of the water had not always been in the same spot.

(p. 173)

It is also worth noting that water is another symbol of the subconscious. Essentially, the hidden divine aspect of our consciousness is what creates the forms which eventually manifest in the material realm.

Quatermain then contemplates how the inside of the cave is illuminated.

… I was particularly anxious to discover, if possible, by what system the light was admitted into the place, and whether it was by the hand of man or of nature that this was done, also if it had been used in any way in ancient times, as seemed probable.

(p. 174)

This symbolizes one of the most important questions for humankind: From where did consciousness arise? Light is the symbol of consciousness, or the divine intellect. It casts light into the darker regions of the subconscious and enlightens us with the divine knowledge. But is this the result of our own doing, a construct of our own minds? Did we evolve this way? Or was some divine “nature” responsible for the gift of enlightenment?

When the group emerges from the cave, they are greeted by a friend who acknowledges the importance of their return to the world of normal consciousness, which is the symbolic end of the hero’s journey, the return from the land of the dead, or the deep reaches of the subconscious.

“Oh, my lords, my lords, it is indeed you come back from the dead!—come back from the dead!”

(p. 196)

I have to say, I really loved this book. It spoke to my sense of adventure, but also inspired me with its rich symbolism. And the quality of the writing is outstanding. I highly recommend this book if you have not read it. It’s short and quick, and definitely worth it.

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“The Apology of Socrates” by Plato

DeathOfSocrates

“The Death of Socrates” by Jacques-Philip-Joseph de Saint-Quentin

I read this back when I was in college, but since I have been listening to the Philosophize This podcast on my drives to and from work, I was inspired to read it again. And yes, I still have my copy of The Last Days of Socrates from school which includes this text.

This text is basically Socrates on trial and the three arguments he presents to the court. The first argument is his closing statement to the jury; the second is after the guilty verdict is returned; and the final section is Socrates addressing the court after they decided on the death penalty.

What struck me upon reading this again is that although the title is the Apology, Socrates never apologizes for his actions. He remains steadfast in his righteousness and asserts that history will prove that he was justified in his pursuit of philosophic truth. I could not help but thinking that the title was meant to be sarcastic or satire.

UPDATE TO POST: A fellow blogger at Earthpages pointed out that Apology as used here comes from the Greek apologia which translates to answer or reasoned defense. This makes more sense. Check out Oxford Center for definition of apologetics

Probably the most famous passage from this text is where Socrates asserts that the reason he is the wisest of all men is because he knows how little he actually knows.

However, I reflected as I walked away: ‘Well, I am certainly wiser than this man. It is only too likely that neither of us has any knowledge to boast of; but he thinks that he knows something which he does not know, whereas I am quite conscious of my ignorance. At any rate it seems that I am wiser than he is to this small extent, that I do not think that I know what I do not know.’

(Last Days of Socrates: p. 50)

We live in an age when technical knowledge is increasing exponentially, and this begs an important question: Does all this knowledge and information actually make us wiser? It’s a legitimate question for the information age. Socrates would say “No.” He asserts that technical knowledge does not equate to wisdom.

Last of all I turned to the skilled craftsmen. I knew quite well that I had practically no technical qualifications myself, and I was sure that I should find them full of impressive knowledge. In this I was not disappointed; they understood things which I did not, and to that extent they were wiser than I was. But, gentlemen, these professional experts seemed to share the same failing which I noticed in the poets; I mean that on the strength of their technical proficiency they claimed a perfect understanding of every other subject, however important; and I felt that this error more than outweighed their positive wisdom.

(ibid: pp. 51 – 52)

Socrates states that “…so long as I draw breath and have my faculties, I shall never stop practising philosophy and exhorting you and elucidating the truth for everyone that I meet.” (ibid: p. 61) Essentially, he is committed to being a life-long learner, something I also aspire to. The day we stop questioning and learning and exercising our mental faculties is the day our minds begin to atrophy. Following Socrates’ example, I plan on reading and writing and thinking for as long as I am physically and mentally capable of doing so, and I hope that you do the same.

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“Promethea: Book 1” by Alan Moore

Promethea_1

This has been on my radar for a while. My friend Joshua recommended it to me a while back and I kept telling myself I would read it. Then one day I was in Comic Envy (my favorite comic store), and I decided to buy the first of the five volumes. I asked my friend Darren, the owner, what he thought about the book. He said I would love it, that it is truly mind-blowing.

This is the story about a college student named Sophie Bangs who becomes the incarnation of Promethea, a goddess heroine who reincarnates in women throughout history. The tale is steeped in symbolism, archetypes, and mythology. Promethea is reincarnated as a result of stories written about her and passed on. It is through reading these stories and connecting with the myths that one becomes open to being the latest incarnation. So essentially, this story is about the power of storytelling and the cycles of stories, archetypes, and symbols that are part of the collective consciousness and expressed through art and literature.

There is so much symbolism woven into this book, both visually in the artwork and in the text, that it is beyond the scope of a short blog post to cover it all, so I will just pull out a couple examples which stood out for me.

Some symbols always mean the same thing… and the archetype of Wisdom is eternal.

While many symbols evolve and take on different meanings, I believe that some symbols and archetypes are eternal and express something universal. Moore asserts this succinctly and perfectly in one sentence. It is why some symbols from antiquity still resonate in the modern world and why we still read Homer today.

In the tale, the Sophie incarnation of Promethea discovers she can travel into another realm of consciousness called the Immateria. This is the realm of the spiritual, of the subconscious, and of the imagination. It is the source of creativity and artistic expression and also the realm of the Platonic forms. At one point, Sophie travels there by entering into a deep meditative state and encounters Margaret, an earlier incarnation of Promethea. They discuss the duality of existence and how both realities coexist.

Margaret: I’m Margaret, by the way. You must be Sophie.

Sophie: Uh, yeah. Sophie Bangs. I guess you’re here to meet me because…

Margaret: …Because I’m who you thought about most recently. Yes. The rules are surprisingly simple, once you know them. I’m glad you came Sophie. You need counseling. You need advice.

Sophie: Yeah, that’s what Barbara said. Listen, first off, I am sitting in a hospital imagining this conversation, right?

Margaret: Well, yes. Your body is sitting in a physical location, and this is all in the imagination. Not your imagination, though. The imagination.

Sophie: “The imagination”? You make it sound like there’s only one of them.

Margaret: There is. There’s a material world, and there’s an immaterial world. Both worlds exist, but in different ways. For example, chairs exist. So does the idea of chairs.

I cannot stress how great this graphic novel is. I am fascinated by mythology, symbols, archetypes, and by the transformative power of art and literature. This has it all, beautifully written and illustrated. The artwork is just as inspiring as the text, and also includes a plethora of visual symbolism woven in to the illustrations. I highly recommend this book.

On a closing note, I also wrote a short summary of this graphic novel as a guest blogger on the Book Club Mom blog. Barbara has a great blog and I suggest you check it out. Here is a link to my guest post on her blog.

Book Club Mom

Cheers, and be sure to read something inspiring today.

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