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"Creeping Spatiality": The Location of Nous in Plotinus' Universe

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There is a well-known tension in Plotinus' thought regarding the location of the intelligible region. He appears to make three mutually incompatible claims about it: (1) it is everywhere; (2) it is nowhere; and (3) it borders on the heavens, where the third claim is associated with Plotinus' affection for cosmic religion. Traditionally, although scholars have found a reasonable way to make sense of the compatibility of the first two claims, they have sought to relieve the tension generated by (3) by both downplaying the importance of cosmic religion to Plotinus and reinterpreting his spatial language metaphorically. In this paper I argue that both of these maneuvers are unsatisfactory. Rather, it is possible to reconcile Plotinus' metaphysics with the world-view of cosmic religion (CR world-view), i.e., to retain the spatial sense of Plotinus' language without making his metaphysics incoherent.

In the first part of this paper, I show that cosmic religion is not just an awkward appendage to Plotinus' metaphysics. After explaining what cosmic religion involves, I argue that the CR world-view is in fact central to his natural philosophy. Then, I turn to the problem of the compatibility between cosmic religion and Plotinus' thought. By carefully considering how Aristotle's Prime Mover is present to his universe, I show how we can make claims (2) and (3) compatible for Plotinus. Then, I argue that Plotinus' own account of the omnipresence of soul and its powers' actualizations in particular locations provides a parallel to the problem of the compatibility between (1) and (3), and further that these two accounts can be combined to resolve completely the tension between the CR world-view and Plotinus' metaphysics. In the final section, I discuss the implications this has for our understanding of the soul's ascent and descent.


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