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Colloquium 7: Plotinus’s Socratic Intellectualism

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image of Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy

The Platonic tradition offered Plotinus two, possibly conflicting, explanations of why people do wrong: the Socratic intellectualism of the Protagoras and the Timaeus and the account of the akratic soul in the Republic. In this paper I argue that Plotinus tacitly rejects akrasia, because it suggests that the superior part of the soul is overcome by inferior parts. It thus sits ill with Plotinus’s doctrine of the impassive soul. He prefers Socratic intellectualism instead. Socratic intellectualism holds that all wrongdoing is due to ignorance and hence occurs involuntarily. Plotinus understands ignorance in this context as the failure of the embodied soul to fully actualize its powers, in particular its knowledge of the Forms. This knowledge is needed in order to correctly evaluate our desires that stir us into action. These desires arise spontaneously from the body and hence they occur involuntarily.


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