Neo-Platonism and the Reality

Light of truth

Fr Joseph Pallattil

“Absolute has its centre everywhere but its boundary nowhere.” This is the famous maxim of Neo-Platonism. Neo- Platonism is a stream of philosophy rooted in platonic philosophy, but extending beyond it in many respects. Its objective was to use Plato’s thought as an intellectual basis for a rational and human life. Neo- Platonic ideas are more explicitly religious than those of Plato, and they developed largely to counter dualistic interpretations in Plato’s thought. For example, Neo- Platonism sought to overcome the Platonic division between Thought and Reality or Ideas and Forms. Platonism is characterized by its method of abstracting the finite world of forms (humans, animals, objects) from the infinite world of Ideas. Neo- Platonism, on the other hand, seeks to locate the One or God in the finite world and human experience. Plotinus was the pioneer of Neo- Platonism.

The three basic principles of Plotinus’ philosophy are ‘the One’ (the Good), Nous, and Soul. These principles are both ultimate ontological realities and explanatory principles.

The One: Plotinus taught that there is a supreme, godlike, totally transcendent One containing no division, multiplicity or distinction. The One is beyond all categories. The One isn’t a thing or a person; it isn’t the sum of all things; and it isn’t sentient or self-aware. But the One is the first principle; it is good; and nothing could exist without it. The One is the source of the world.

Nous: The first emanation from the One is Nous or Intelligence. This intelligence contemplates both the One, as well as its own thoughts, which Plotinus identifies with the Platonic Forms.

Soul: The second emanation brings soul, the creative power of which is divided into the upper aspect, World Soul, which remains in contact with Nous, and the lower aspect, identified with nature, which allows for individual human souls.

Matter: The third emanation results in matter, the lowest level of being, and is thus the least perfected level of the cosmos.

Neo-Platonism speaks about Mystical Experience. To experience the One is be in ecstatic union with it. This union with the One is probably related to enlightenment and other concepts of mystical union common to many Eastern and Western traditions.

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