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Plotinus on the Structure of Self-Intellection

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In this paper, I argue that Plotinus offers us a new and interesting account of self-intellection. It is an account which is informed to some extent by a dilemma that Sextus Empiricus raised about the intellect being to apprehend itself. The significance of Sextus' dilemma is that it sets out the framework within which such a cognitive activity is to be dealt with, namely the intellect must apprehend itself qua part or qua whole, both of which according to him are impossible. Plotinus, I think, successfully gets around this dilemma and is able to explain how the intellect can think itself qua whole. In the process of doing so, he offers an account of self-intellection in which the thinking subject or thinker becomes active in terms of generating its intellectual content, namely itself; a move which is a break from the traditional Platonic/Aristotelian account of the intellect. The paper itself is set up as follows. I start by mentioning the dilemma which Sextus raises about self-intellection. Then I attempt, through an analysis of the noetic intellect's structure, to show how Plotinus is able to offer an account of self-intellection in terms of whole apprehending whole. I conclude with Plotinus' analysis of the light analogy as a means of explaining how this intellectual process works.

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