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Open Access Plotinus on the Making of Matter Part III: The Essential Background

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Plotinus on the Making of Matter Part III: The Essential Background

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Abstract Plotinus did not set out to be obscure. Difficulties of interpretation arise partly from his style of writing, compressed, elliptical, allusive. The allusions, easily enough recognisable by those he was writing for, are often not recognised at all by the modern reader who no longer has at his fingertips the texts of Plato and Aristotle that Plotinus undoubtedly alludes to, but whose authors he has no need to name. So it is pre-eminently with his subtle use of earlier ideas in tackling the difficult question of the nature of matter and its place in the scheme of emanation. The frequent references to matter as ‘non-being’ and as ‘privation’ can be understood only if they are seen as a radical adaptation of the paradoxical definition of a ‘form that is, of what is not’ in Plato’s Sophist (258 D 5-7) and as a deliberate correction of Aristotle’s unsuccessful attempt at including female desire in an analysis of privation in the Physics (i 9, 192 a 22-25). Only when the debt to Plato and Aristotle has been recognised for what it is are we able to appreciate that matter defined as ‘non-being’ is not therefore ‘non-existent’, and that the ‘privation’ that is matter is not a terminus a quo of change, but a permanent substrate of change. The adaptation and the daring syncretism lead to deliberate paradox in Plotinus’ own definition of matter as both ‘so to speak a form of sorts’ and ‘formless’ (I 8 [51] 3). The seeming inconsistency is Plotinus’ acknowledgment of the use he has made of earlier ideas when he writes of matter, so defined, as ‘made’ by a lower manifestation of soul, and therefore as the last and the least of the products flowing from, but not created by, the One.

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30. FN1 1)The following two sections of my essay aim to bring to light the Platonic and Aristotelian background of Enn.II 4 [12] 16 (the final chapter of the treatise On matter), drawing principally on Plato, Soph.258 D 5-259 A 1, and Aristotle, Phys. i 7-9 (esp. cap. 9, 192 a 22-25).
31. FN2 2)The numbering of the sections picks up from ‘Plotinus on the Making of Matter, Part II: ‘A Corpse Adorned’ ( Enn.II 4 [12] 5.18)’, published in an earlier issue of this Journal.
32. FN3 3)Aristotle, Phys. i 7-9.
33. FN4 4)This is not, so Plotinus would claim, inconsistent with the matter of the sensible world ‘becoming something definite’, earlier in the same treatise On matter( Enn.II 4 [12] 5.16-17), nor therefore with the object ‘utterly indefinite’, engendered by soul in On the daimon, ‘taking on form’ so that it ‘becomes body’ ( Enn.III 4 [15] 1.14-15). For the first passage, see § 13 above; for the second, see § 20 above. The conjunction of matter and form is never such as to modify the intrinsic formlessness of matter. When Plotinus asks how matter can ‘participate without participating’ ( Enn.III 6 [26] 14.21-22), his answer is that it does so as a mere surface reflection (Plotinus’ own image), without any inner transformation of matter itself. See O’Brien, 1993, 58-60.
34. FN5 5)Aristotle, Phys. i 9, 192 a 22-25.
35. FN6 6)For a less breathless account of Plotinus’ borrowing-cum-criticism of Aristotle’s presentation of female desire, see O’Brien, 1996 and 2005, 77-80.
36. FN7 7)The sentence following in the text of Plotinus runs, 16.15-16: τοῦτο δέ ἐστιν· ὅ ἐστι µᾶλλον γίγνεται, literally: ‘That is: what it is, it becomes more so.’ The expression τοῦτο δέ ἐστι occurs a number of times in the Enneads, and the sentence may therefore be authentic. But it could easily be heard as a gloss, designed to explain the unusual expression µᾶλλον θηλύνεται.
37. FN8 8)The complexity of Plato’s reaction has not, I think, been fully understood in any commentary that I have ever had occasion to read of that fascinating but troubled dialogue. The most recent author (N. Notomi) is also the most obdurate, as I have occasion to point out in my contribution to the proceedings of two recent colloquia (2009) on the Sophist, held in Benasque (Spain) and in Prague.
38. FN9 9) Soph.258 D 6: τὸ εἶδος ὃ τυγχάνει ὂν τοῦ µὴ ὄντος.
39. FN10 10) Soph.258 E 2-3: τὸ πρὸς τὸ ὂν ἑκάστου µόριον αὐτῆς [ sc.τῆς θατέρου ϕύσεως] ἀντιτιθέµενον ἐτολµήσαµεν εἰπεῖν ὡς αὐτὸ τοῦτό ἐστιν ὄντως τὸ µὴ ὄν. Literally: ‘Of that part of the nature of the other (τὸ [. . .] µόριον αὐτῆς [ sc.τῆς θατέρου ϕύσεως]) that is opposed to the being of each thing (πρὸς τὸ ὂν ἑκάστου [. . .] ἀντιτιθέµενον), we dared to say (ἐτολµήσαµεν εἰπεῖν) that just that (ὡς αὐτὸ τοῦτό) is really(ἐστιν ὄντως) what is not(τὸ µὴ ὄν).’
40. FN11 11)For the Stranger’s dismissal of a ‘contrary’ of being, see the remarks immediately following his announcement of a ‘form of non-being’ ( Soph.258 E 6-259 A 1). For the importance of the distinction to the Stranger’s critique of Parmenides, see O’Brien, 1987, 135-302, and 1995, 57-59.
41. FN12 12) Enn.II 4 [12] 16.1-2: ἆρ᾿ οὖν καὶ ἑτερότητι ταὐτόν [ sc.ἡ ὕλη ἐστί] ; ἢ οὔ, ἀλλὰ µορίῳ ἑτερότητος . . . The opening question reads in full: ‘Is matter then (οὖν) also (καί) the same as otherness?’ Having demonstrated (cap. 15) that matter is the same as the indefinite, Plotinus now asks, in this, the final chapter of the treatise, whether matter is therefore also the same as ‘otherness’. The initial answer is ‘no’ (ἢ οὔ). The difference between ‘otherness’ and what is only ‘a part of otherness’ will be a crucial feature of Plotinus’ borrowing from Plato. See the continuation of my main text above.
42. FN13 13) Enn.II 4 [12] 16.1-3: . . . µορίῳ ἑτερότητος ἀντιταττοµένῳ πρὸς τὰ ὄντα κυρίως, ἃ δὴ λόγοι [ sc.ἡ ὕλη ταὐτόν ἐστι]. ‘Matter is the same (ἡ ὕλη ταὐτόν ἐστι, taken over from the words preceding) as a part of otherness (µορίῳ ἑτερότητος) set in opposition (ἀντιταττοµένῳ) to the beings properly so-called (πρὸς τὰ ὄντα κυρίως), that are none other than logoi(ἃ δὴ λόγοι).’ Plotinus’ definition is an adaptation of the Stranger’s definition of the form of non-being in the Sophist(258 E 2-3, quoted above, n. 10).
43. FN14 14)Armstrong, 1956, ad loc.(p. 147).
44. FN15 15)‘Non-being’ in Plato: Soph.258 E 2-3. ‘Non-being’ in Aristotle: Phys.i 8, 191 b 15-17. See also i 9, 192 a 3-6. When Plotinus asserts that matter is ‘the same as privation’ ( Enn.II 4 [12] 16.3: στερήσει ταὐτόν [ sc. ἡ ὕλη]), he asserts exactly what Aristotle denies: ‘We say that matter and privation are different’ ( Phys. i 9, 192 a 3-4: ἡµεῖς µὲν γὰρ ὕλην καὶ στέρησιν ἕτερόν ϕαµεν εἶναι). The allusion to female ‘desire’ (16.13-15, see above § 25) is sufficient proof, if proof were needed, that Plotinus is fully conscious of the contradiction.
45. FN16 16)See again (cf. § 26 above) Soph.258 E 2-3: τὸ πρὸς τὸ ὂν ἑκάστου µόριον αὐτῆς [ sc.τῆς θατέρου ϕύσεως] ἀντιτιθέµενον ἐτολµήσαµεν εἰπεῖν ὡς αὐτὸ τοῦτό ἐστιν ὄντως τὸ µὴ ὄν. Literally: ‘Of that part of the nature of the other (τὸ [. . .] µόριον αὐτῆς [ sc.τῆς θατέρου ϕύσεως]) that is opposed to the being of each thing (πρὸς τὸ ὂν ἑκάστου [. . .] ἀντιτιθέµενον), we dared to say (ἐτολµήσαµεν εἰπεῖν) that just that (ὡς αὐτὸ τοῦτό) is really (ἐστιν ὄντως) what is not (τὸ µὴ ὄν).’
46. FN17 17)‘Modern editors’ include Burnet, in his two Oxford editions of Plato (1900 and 1905), and the editors of the first volume of the revised edition (Duke et alii, 1995). Failure to recognise anachronistic variants in ancient texts transcribed by scholars fully conversant with, and anxious to propagate, the ‘truths’ of Platonism and of Neoplatonism, is a common source of error in modern editions. For examples, see O’Brien, 1987b.
47. FN18 18)The comparison here lies between On matter, Enn.II 4 [12] 16.21-23, and On the daimon, Enn.III 4 [15] 1.8-14. The essential background is provided by Aristotle, Phys. i 7-9.
48. FN19 19)The comparison here lies between On matter, Enn.II 4 [12] 16.1-3, and Various investigations, Enn.III 9 [13] 3.9 and 11. The essential background is provided by Plato, Soph.258 E 2-3.
49. FN20 20)Phillips, 2009, 108 and 134. Cf. § 10 above.
50. FN21 21)For the flights of fancy inspired by such a notion, see § 10 above.
51. FN22 22) On the Good and on the One, Enn.VI 9 [9]. Porphyry has chosen to place this text as the final tractate in his edition of the Enneads, perhaps because he too was moved, as so many later readers have been, by the concluding words, ‘the flight of the alone to the Alone’. Chronologically, the text falls immediately before The three principal hypostases, Enn.V 1 [10], where we have already had occasion to note the composite expression ‘the darkness of matter and non-being’ (2.26-27: σκότος ὕλης καὶ µὴ ὄν). The two treatises precede almost directly the treatise On matter(see § 14 above).
52. FN23 23)The ‘non-being’ synonymous with ‘evil’ in On the Good and on the One(11.37: µὴ ὄν) is undoubtedly matter, as is the ‘non-being’ referred to in The three principal hypostases(2.26-27: µὴ ὄν), and in On matter(16.3 µὴ ὄν). In On the Good and on the One, it is not therefore ‘utterly non-being’ (11.36: τὸ πάντη µὴ ὄν) or ‘utter non-being’ (11.37-38: τὸ παντελὲς µὴ ὄν). The denial that matter is ‘utterly non-being’ will be repeated in On what evils are and where they come from( Enn.I 8 [51] 3.6-7: τὸ παντελῶς µὴ ὄν, see § 29 below). The same expression is used in On matter, when Plotinus argues that coming-into-being in the sensible world cannot arise ἐκ τοῦ παντελῶς µὴ ὄντος (6.6). To bring out the repetition of a common prefix (παν-) in πάν-τη, παν-τελῶς and παν-τελές, I translate the adjective (παντελής) as ‘utter’ and the two adverbs (both πάντη and παντελῶς) as ‘utterly’. See also the footnote following.
53. FN24 24)When the expression τὸ πάντη µὴ ὄν recurs in Enn.III 6 [26] 14.20-21 (τὸ δὲ πάντη µὴ ὂν ἄµικτoν τῷ ὄντι), the reference is not to matter, as the punctuation of the sentence by Henry and Schwyzer would lead one to believe. The words are still part of the parenthesis that begins in the previous line, where it is correctly marked, in Henry and Schwyzer’s edition, by an opening dash (14.19), but carries on to include the words quoted (14.20-21). The dash marking the end of the parenthesis should therefore be placed not, as it is in Henry and Schwyzer’s edition, before the words quoted (and therefore at 14.20, before τὸ δὲ πάντη), but after the words quoted (and therefore at 14.21, after τῷ ὄντι).
54. FN25 25)Phillips, 2009, 107: ‘. . . the adverbs πάντη and παντελῆ.’ For the single use of παντελῆ, see On the daimon1.12 (when the same word appears in On the Good and on the One, it is as a neuter, 11.37: παντελές). For the multiple uses of πάντη, see the many references given above.
55. FN26 26)For ἀνόλεθρος (p. 105 and p. 105 n. 6), read ἀνώλεθρος. For γένητος (p. 105), read γενητός ( ibid.). For ὥδε (p. 115 n. 28), read ὧδε. For ἁρµατία (p. 115 n. 30), read ἁµαρτία. For σκία ( ibid.), read σκιά. For ὂσον (p. 130 n. 61), read ὅσον. For σωµατοειδόν (p. 131), read σωµατοειδές. For εἶδος τι (p. 134), read εἶδός τι.
56. FN27 27)In describing both πάντη and παντελῆ as ‘adverbs’, Phillips has presumably been misled by the form of the word, by the fact that both words end, fortuitously, with the same vowel. Even so, one might have expected a more conscientious reader of Plotinus’ text, having failed to recognise the form of the word, at least to have paused to reflect on the oddity that what he supposed to be an adverb (παντελῆ) should be attached to a noun (ἀοριστίαν, Enn.III 4 [15] 1.11-12). However idiosyncratic Plotinus’ use of what may, or conceivably may not, have been his native tongue, the text of the Enneadsstill conforms to the fundamental norms of Greek syntax. The so-called ‘adjectival’ use of the adverb, though admittedly not impossible, would have been unusual in our text. See the examples of an ‘adjectival’ use quoted by Kühner-Gerth, 1898, 594-596 (§ 461.6).
57. FN28 28)Phillips, 2009, 108 and 134. See above § 28.
58. FN29 29)For the chronology of the treatises, see again Vita5, and Goulet’s commentary (1982).
59. FN30 30)At Enn.II 4 [12] 16.1-3, Plotinus repeats, with a crucial variation, what the Stranger says at Soph.258 E 2-3. See above § 26. I comment below (§ 33) on the use of the indefinite pronoun (τι) and on the change in the order of words. Plotinus’ definition, translated literally, would be ‘a certain form of what is not (εἶδός τι τοῦ µὴ ὄντος), that is (ὄν)’. But this is too barbarous, in English, and is also superficially ambiguous, since it is not immediately clear, in English, that ‘form’ is the antecedent of the relative clause (‘that is’). The translation adopted above, in so far as it gives the same order of words for the two quotations, from the Enneadsand from the Sophist, does therefore make Plotinus’ reminiscence even more obvious, in English, than it is in Greek‚ but the point is hardly of consequence for my argument, since no-one could seriously doubt that Plotinus is here alluding to the paradoxical definition of the form of non-being taken from the very same passage of the Sophist(258 D 5-E 3) that he had already made use of in his treatise On matter.
60. FN31 31)See again § 28 above. The context of the expression and its purpose is ‘essentially the same’ in On the Good and on the One, in so far as the ‘evil’ there referred to (11.37: κακόν) is none other than matter. What is lacking in On the Good and on the One, and what will be found in On evils, is Plotinus’ repetition of the Stranger’s paradox (258 D 6: ‘a form that is, of what is not’) as a match for his own definition of matter as ‘non-being’ (3.4-5).
61. FN32 32)For Plotinus’ adaptation of Plato’s definition, see again § 26 above.
62. FN33 33)Phillips, 2009, 108 and 134. Armstrong, 1967, ad loc.(p. 147).
63. FN34 34)Armstrong, 1967, ad loc.(p. 413), translates Enn.III 9 [13] 3.9: τὸ µὴ ὄν, as ‘non-existence’, and the same expression, two lines later (3.11), as ‘the non-existent’. For the discrepancy, see the footnote following. Armstrong, 1988, ad loc.(p. 345), translates Enn.VI 9 [9] 11.37: µὴ ὄν, as ‘non-existence’, and both τὸ πάντη µὴ ὄν (11.36) and τὸ παντελὲς µὴ ὄν (11.37-38) as ‘absolute non-existence’.
64. FN35 35)In the pages that follow, I let pass the difference between ‘non-existence’ and ‘non-existent’, Armstrong’s successive translations of the same expression, τὸ µὴ ὄν, in Various investigations3.9 and 11 (see the footnote preceding this). I am not quite sure what difference, if any, Armstrong had in mind by his choice of one or other word. Presumably he found it a little less odd to write of soul ‘making the non-existent’ (3.11: τὸ µὴ ὄν preceded by ποιεῖ) than he would have done if he had written of the soul ‘making non-existence’, a form of words that almost suggests some strange periphrasis for ‘destroy’ or ‘obliterate’. Conversely, it presumably sounded a little more plausible to write of soul ‘going towards non-existence’ (3.11: Armstrong’s choice of verb for ϕεροµένη preceding εἰς τὸ µὴ ὄν) than it would have done to write of soul ‘going towards the non-existent’, as though ‘the non-existent’ could serve to mark a boundary or a destination or even a goal. Since, as will be seen, I think that either translation is wrong, there hardly seems any point in trying my reader’s patience by pursuing the difference, even though, philosophically and linguistically, exploration of a possible difference (how do we distinguish ‘non-existent’ from ‘non-existence’?) would perhaps not be without interest.
65. FN36 36)Armstrong, 1956, ad loc.(p. 283), translates Enn.I 8 [51] 3.6-7: τὸ παντελῶς µὴ ὄν, ‘absolute non-being’. As noted above, Armstrong, 1988, ad loc.(p. 345), translates Enn.VI 9 [9] 11.37-38: τὸ παντελὲς µὴ ὄν, ‘absolute non-existence’.
66. FN37 37)For the description of εἶναι, when used to form a ‘complete’ predicate, as a ‘substantive’ use of verb, in contradistinction to its use as a copula, see LSJ, s.v.εἰµί ( sum), A (p. 488). For the composite English verb ‘am-was-be’, originally three different verbs, but now treated as parts of one and the same verb, see OED, vol. i, s.v.‘be’ (pp. 715-719).
67. FN38 38)For the late introduction of ‘exist’, see OED, vol. iii, s.v.(p. 413). The earliest use quoted for the verb is from Shakespeare ( King Lear, Act 1, scene i, lines 110-111: ‘. . . the orbs / from whom we do exist and cease to be’). For the use of ‘there’ as a way of giving emphasis to the verb that follows, and specifically to forms of ‘be’, see OED, vol. xi, s.v., B, 4, d (p. 281). With the semi-impersonal use of the older verb (‘there is . . .’), the ‘logical’ subject follows the verb (‘there is no God’).
68. FN39 39)‘There is no God’ is the conventional translation of the opening verse of Psalm 14, taken by Anselm as the starting point for the so-called ontological argument of his Proslogion. The fool says in his heart οὐκ ἔστι Θεός (in the Septuagint), non est Deus(in Anselm’s text, repeating the translation traditionally ascribed to Jerome).
69. FN40 40)I would merely repeat here, by way of encouragement for the faint-hearted, who may think that I have gone on for too long already, that only by working out the answer to those two questions will the modern reader of Plotinus be able to achieve a firm grasp of the conceptual issue at stake in Plotinus’ repetition, and adaptation, of the paradox of non-being in Plato’s Sophist, and therefore a firm grasp of what Plotinus has in mind when he speaks of the soul as ‘making non-being’ in Various investigations(3.10-11).
70. FN41 41)See OED, vol. i, s.v.‘be’, B, I: ‘ absolutely’ (pp. 717-718), and B, III: ‘acting as simple copula’ (p. 718).
71. FN42 42)See LSJ, s.v.εἰµί ( sum), A: ‘as the Substantive Verb’ (p. 488), B: ‘most frequently, to be, the Copula’ ( ibid.).
72. FN43 43)I pause only to remark that it is a sign of philosophical illiteracy and of linguistic ignorance to suppose, as some of my less enlightened colleagues do, that the distinctions drawn by Kahn and others have somehow ‘outdated’ the basic difference, as noted in LSJ (see above), between a common-or-garden use of εἶναι as a copula, and the less frequent, but perfectly well-attested, occasions when the same word is used as what Liddell, Scott and Jones call ‘the Substantive Verb’ (see above). In its substantival use, the verb forms of itself a complete predicate, as it does for example when Socrates, in Aristophanes’ Clouds, puts Strepsiades firmly in his place by telling him, to his obvious astonishment: ‘There is no Zeus’, ‘Zeus doesn’t exist’ (v. 366: οὐδ᾿ ἔστι Ζεύς).
73. FN44 44)To ‘be’, in the Sophist, is to participate in ‘being’. See 256 A 1-2. The Stranger goes out of his way, 258 A 7-9, to insist that all the ‘parts’ of otherness are so many ‘beings’ (ὄντα). The clear implication, in the context of the dialogue, is that they are ‘beings’ because they participate in ‘being’.
74. FN45 45)For lack of participation as a condition of ‘contrariety’, see O’Brien, 1993, 57-59.
75. FN46 46)Aristotle, Met.Γ 3, 1005 b 17-18.
76. FN47 47)If I so labour a point that to any attentive reader of the Sophistshould be obvious, it is because commentators, even the most recent, unwittingly obliterate the distinction by asserting, for example, that ‘Plato deliberately leaves open the question about the beingof what in no way is’ (Notomi, 2007, 184, with the author’s own italics). Plato’s Stranger does no such thing. He does not for one moment assert, nor even ‘leave open’, as the author of the words I have quoted would have us believe, the possibility that what is specifically said ‘not to be in any way at all’ (cf. 237 B 7-8: τὸ µηδαµῶς ὄν, Notomi’s ‘what in no way is’) might nonetheless, somehow, just possibly ‘be’. For all the years that he has devoted to a study of the Sophist(cf. Notomi, 1999), my friend has still no glimmerings of the whole point and purpose of the paradox that lies at the heart of the dialogue. He also lets it be seen, incidentally, that despite a recent essay replete with dismissive allusions to myself (Notomi, 2007), for the most part wildly inaccurate, he has not taken the trouble to read O’Brien, 1995, 57-59, where the distinction between negation and contrariety, and its importance for the argumentative structure of the dialogue, is set out in some detail. See also the footnote at the end of this section.
77. FN48 48)‘Utter non-being’, Enn.VI 9 [9] 11.37-38: τὸ παντελὲς µὴ ὄν. ‘What is utterly non-being’, Enn.I 8 [51] 3.6-7: τὸ παντελῶς µὴ ὄν. ‘What is not in any way at all’, Soph.237 B 7-8: τὸ µηδαµῶς ὄν. The impossible ‘contrary’ of being: 258 E 6-259 A 1.
78. FN49 49)The plot of the Sophistis a good deal more complicated than I have made it appear in the simple summary of the dialogue outlined in the preceding paragraphs. When the Stranger contrasts the form of non-being with an impossible and inconceivable ‘contrary’ of being (258 E 6-259 A 1), he is introducing a distinction that had not been made in the earlier part of the dialogue. His quotation of the same pair of verses from Parmenides’ poem (fr. 7.1-2), before and after the account of ‘the very great gene’ (the first quotation: 237 A 8-9, the second quotation: 258 D 2-3), is intended to show up the ambivalence of the notion of ‘non-being’ in a world that is ruled by the simple opposition of ‘is’ and ‘is not’, as portrayed in the poem of Parmenides, an ambivalence that is dissipated by the Stranger’s account of the parts of otherness and his resulting definition of ‘the form that is, of what is not’ (258 D 5-E 3), designed to introduce a ‘non-being’ that is not a ‘contrary’ of being (cf. 258 E 8). The argumentative structure of the dialogue, Plato’s subtle portrayal of a world lacking the distinctions brought to light in the course of the dialogue, is a theme that I have pursued at some length elsewhere (1995, 2000). Here, my only concern is to present the outcome of the Stranger’s argument, and the use that is made of it, for his own purposes, by Plotinus.—A final caveat: in writing, as I do above, of Plotinus’ adaptation of Plato’s thesis, I do not imply that he and Plato see eye to eye on the notion of ‘contrariety’. So much is at once obvious from Plotinus’ remarks in On evils(cap. 6). But the divergence, although it will loom large in the commentators, notably Simplicius, is, for our present purposes, incidental. My point here is simply that, for Plotinus as for Plato, ‘non-being’ defined as ‘the form that is, of what is not’ is not the sheer nothingness that Plato’s Stranger has chosen to allude to as a ‘contrary’ of being.
79. FN50 50)I return to the discrepancy noted earlier (§ 29 above). Armstrong (1988, ad loc., p. 345) translates τὸ παντελὲς µὴ ὄν ( Enn.VI 9 [9] 11.37-38) as ‘absolute non-existence’. The same author (1956, ad loc., p. 283) translates τὸ παντελῶς µὴ ὄν ( Enn.I 8 [51] 3.6-7) as ‘absolute non-being’.
80. FN51 51)‘Exist’ is frequently accompanied by an adverbial expression (‘He exists only in your imagination’) or by ‘as’ (‘He exists only as a figment of your imagination’). Its use with a simple complement (he chose ‘to exist a mastiff or a mule’), is now obsolete. See OED, vol. iii, s.v.‘exist’ (p. 413).
81. FN52 52)Armstrong (1988, ad loc., p. 345) translates Enn.VI 9 [9] 11.37: µὴ ὄν, as ‘non-existence’, and both τὸ πάντη µὴ ὄν (11.36) and τὸ παντελὲς µὴ ὄν (11.37-38) as ‘absolute non-existence’. In the context, the point is that soul, in her descent, arrives at µὴ ὄν (evil, and therefore matter), but not at τὸ πάντη µὴ ὄν or at τὸ παντελὲς µὴ ὄν (sheer nothingness). See above § 29 for the distinction, or the lack of a distinction, between ‘non-existent’ and ‘non-existence’.
82. FN53 53)See again Phillips, 2009, 134, Armstrong, 1956, ad loc.(p. 147). Cf. § 29 above. I do have a certain fellow-feeling for Phillips’ having been led astray by Armstrong’s translation. I have myself, in my younger days, under the same influence, been led to write of ‘non-existence’ when I would now write of ‘non-being’. I leave the reader with sufficient curiosity to track down just when, and where.
83. FN54 54)See § 10 and § 28 above.
84. FN55 55)Armstrong, 1988, ad loc.(p. 345).
85. FN56 56)For the adaptation, see again § 26 above.
86. FN57 57)Phillips, 2009, 134.
87. FN58 58)The expression τὸ τοιόνδε σῶµα, the origin of Phillips’ often repeated expression ‘qualified body’, occurs in only two related passages, Enn.IV 4 [28] 18.9 and 20.24-26 (four occurrences in all). Cf. § 18 above. Phillips, 2009, 134, seeks to appropriate the expression as a description of the object made by soul in Various investigations.
88. FN59 59)For the adjective ἀνείδεος, applied specifically to matter, see Enn.II 5 [25] 4.11-12 (quoted below). The implication is no different when Plotinus writes of matter as a ‘penury of form’ in the concluding lines of On matter, Enn.II 4 [12] 16.22-23 (πενία [. . .] εἴδους), and when he writes of the product of soul as ‘utter indefiniteness’ in relation to form, in On the daimon, Enn.III 4 [15] 1.12-14. For the same theme in On evils, see the continuation of my main text and the footnote following. For matter as ‘form’, see again On evils, 3.4-5: εἶδός τι τοῦ µὴ ὄντος ὄν, an obvious borrowing (cf. § 29 above) from Plato’s Sophist, 258 D 6: τὸ εἶδος ὃ τυγχάνει ὂν τοῦ µὴ ὄντος.
89. FN60 60)See esp. Enn.I 8 [51], cap. 9.11-18 (matter as complete lack of form), cap. 10.12-16 (matter as ‘contrary to form’), and cap. 11.1-4 (matter as the ‘privation’ that is opposed to form).
90. FN61 61)For ‘privation’ as ‘non-being’, see Aristotle, Phys.i 9, 192 a 3-6. For ‘non-being’ as a part of otherness in the Sophist, see 258 A 2-3. For the syncretism, see § 26 above.
91. FN62 62)For the ‘depreciative’ use of τις, see LSJ, s.v., A, II, 6, a (p. 1796: ‘with a sense of contempt’). A good example of the depreciative use of the pronoun (or the pronominal adjective) in a philosophical context is provided by Plato’s reference to Empedocles (‘the Sicilian Muses’) earlier in the Sophist. The opposition between Empedocles’ two divine powers is presented as an opposition between Aphrodite and ‘a certain Strife’, ‘some Strife or other’ (243 A 1-2: Νεῖκός τι). There is an audible curling of the lip. The Stranger (Plato) jibs at speaking of a god of evil as equal in power and status to a god of goodness. So too in our passage of the Enneads, the non-being that, in the continuation of the argument, will prove to be matter is ‘so to speak’ a form (cf. οἷον εἶδος), ‘a form of sorts’ (cf. εἶδός τι). See also the footnote following.
92. FN63 63)In referring again to a ‘depreciative’ use of the indefinite pronoun, I obviously do not mean that, in either treatise, Plotinus is speaking of Plato’s form ‘with contempt’ or with a ‘curling of the lip’ (for both expressions, see the footnote preceding this). I mean only that, in both texts, when referring to matter as ‘form’, Plotinus is, to my mind, by his addition of the pronoun, very clearly holding his use of the word ‘form’ at arm’s length. In both texts, matter is only ‘a sort of form’, ‘a form of sorts’ (εἶδός τι).
93. FN64 64)Plato, Soph.258 D 6: τὸ εἶδος ὃ τυγχάνει ὂν τοῦ µὴ ὄντος. Plotinus, On evils3.4-5: εἶδός τι τοῦ µὴ ὄντος ὄν. For my comment on the difficulty of a translation that reflects, in English, the difference in the order of words, see above § 29.
94. FN65 65)Even when Phillips has found the time for a serious study of the remaining fragments of Parmenides’ poem, and of Plato’s elaborate reaction to the same in the Sophist, I would dare suggest, however immodest it may seem, that he should also spend a few moments looking through O’Brien, 1987 (on Parmenides), 1995 (on the Sophist) and 2000 (a comparison of Parmenides and Plato), before attempting to return afresh to the text of the Enneads.That additional reading will not be indispensable if he has studied the original texts with sufficient care. But a cursory study of all three essays is very advisable as an antidote, if he has been tempted, as newcomers so often are, to take a short-cut and, instead of reading the Greek text, to content himself with looking up one or more of the many handbooks that clutter the shelves of libraries and bookstores. A brief perusal of the three publications noted above will, I hope, at least make it clear that nothing can replace a close reading of the ipsissima verbaof both Parmenides and Plato—Parmenides’ own words having been very fortunately recorded at sufficient length by Sextus and Simplicius for us to be able to form a reasonably clear idea of what it was that Plato was tilting against in the Sophist.
95. FN66 66)Phillips, 2009, 136-137. See § 1 above.
96. FN67 67) Enn.IV 3 [27] 9. For the context, and for the repetition in this text of the terminology of Various investigations, see § 3 above.
97. FN68 68)Phillips, 2009, 105 n. 7.
98. FN69 69)O’Brien, 1991, 61 n. 9.
99. FN70 70)See again Enn.IV 3 [27] 9.12-26.
100. FN71 71) Enn.V 1 [10] 2. See § 14 above. For my association of ‘form’ and ‘illumination’, see § 2 above.
101. FN72 72)Phillips, 2009, 115 n. 30.
102. FN73 73)Phillips, 2009, 136.
103. FN74 74)Phillips, 2009, 115 n. 30 (second paragraph, referring to O’Brien, 1993, ‘40f.’).
104. FN75 75)O’Brien, 1993, 40 n. 13: ‘Je tiens pour synonymes l’“illumination” de la matière et son “information”.’
105. FN76 76)O’Brien, 1993, 40: ‘L’âme qui engendre la matière doit aussi l’illuminer.’ In the sentence preceding: ‘ “Illumination” et génération ont ainsi partie liée.’
106. FN77 77)See Against the Gnostics, Enn.II 9 [33] 3.11-21. See also the passage quoted earlier in this section, from the first book of Puzzles about the soul, Enn.IV 3 [27] 9.15-29. My comment on the passage in question ( Enn.II 9 [33] 3.11-21) is, as noted above (§ 2), a denialthat the ‘illumination’ of matter is also a ‘generation’ of matter. See O’Brien, 1993, 37.
107. FN78 78)Phillips use of ‘creation’ in formulating his own ideas is too frequent to require specific reference. For his use of the same word in supposedly summarising my thesis, see Phillips, 2009, 104.
108. FN79 79) Cf.Spinoza, Cogitata metaphysicapars II, cap. X: «. . . res creata est illa, quae ad existendum nihil praeter Deum praesupponit.» Spinoza’s use of the gerund ( ad existendum) does not lend itself at all easily to translation. The repetition, whether or not deliberate, of prae-terand prae-supponitis also lost in translation.
109. FN80 80)Cf. Dodds, 1963, 231 (on Aquinas).
110. FN81 81)Augustine would not agree. Enthused by his reading of what was almost certainly a Latin translation of part or all of the Enneads, he asserts, in the opening chapters of book seven of the Confessions, that he had already found the same truths expressed in the Prologue to the Fourth Gospel. But Augustine, for all his many virtues, was not an historian of philosophy.
111. FN82 82)I summarise the thesis of O’Brien, 1969.
112. FN83 83)Phillips, 2009, 136.
113. FN84 84)Phillips’ account of the ‘creation’ of matter as an ‘illumination’ of matter would appear to betray confusion with the matter of the intelligible world, which is indeed said to be, in virtue of its belonging to the intelligible realm, an ‘illuminated substance’ (cf. On matter5.23: πεϕωτισµένη οὐσία). Neither word can apply to the matter of the sensible world, which is neither ‘substance’ nor ever fused with form so as be ‘illuminated’ in the way that is true of intelligible matter. Once again, Phillips betrays his neglect of Plotinus’ treatise On matter, where the difference between the ‘two matters’ turns largely on the difference between ‘substance’ (intelligible matter) and ‘non-being’ (the matter of the sensible world), and on the relation of matter to form (the forms are never more than ‘reflections’ in the world of sense).
114. FN85 85)O’Brien, 1992 (in French), 1994 (in English).
115. FN86 86)I have inferred Phillips’ lack of familiarity with my thesis from the curious way in which he has formulated his remarks on p. 109 of his article. Either Phillips is not conversant with my account of the ‘oath’, or he has deliberately decided to leave his readers in the dark.
116. FN87 87)I am obviously tempted at this point to summarise my account of the ‘oath of silence’, and even more sorely tempted to outline my understanding of the ‘theodicy’ that underlies Plotinus’ criticism of the Gnostics. But I can already see the Editor scowling and the Assistant Editor fidgeting nervously with her blue crayon. First things first. Unless Plotinus’ own theory of the nature and the origin of matter has been understood, then his criticism of the Gnostics can be only a inscrutable puzzle, as it so obviously is for Phillips, in the first part of his article. The major misunderstandings in the earlier pages of Phillips’ article, largely given over to Plotinus’ criticism of the Gnostics, I may, or may not, take account of in a future publication. Having failed to grasp Plotinus’ theory of the origin of matter, Phillips has not surprisingly failed to grasp what Plotinus has to say of the origin of evil, and therefore wholly fails to isolate what Plotinus objects to in the Gnostic theories that he sees as opposed to his own.
117. FN88 88)Cf. Phillips, 2007.
118. FN89 89)For Proclus’ theory of matter and evil, there is a useful study by Opsomer (2001).
119. FN90 90)Blake, Europe.
120. FN91 91)See On matter, Enn.II 4 [12] 9-10, and The three principal hypostases, Enn.V 1 [10] 9.23. ‘A chance conjunction’: in both texts, κατὰ συντυχίαν.
121. FN92 92)There is a second edition (1989). Where there is no substantial difference between the two, I prefer to quote the first edition, both because I have it conveniently to hand on my own shelves, and because I prefer the typography.

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Affiliations: 1: Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique Paris France


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