The Routledge Handbook Of Neoplatonism __FULL__
This handbook is timely. In their Introduction, the editors of this volume, Pauliina Remes and Svetla Slaveva-Griffin, note rightly that, "even when the publishers' catalogues are laden with state-of-the-art companions, guides and histories in every field," the appearance of such a Handbook is momentous, perhaps even a "rite of passage." (1)
The Routledge Handbook of Neoplatonism
Since this handbook is made up of 33 contributions consisting of 644 pages (with indices), I will not be able to concisely express the depth and breadth of the scholarship found in the volume. Therefore, I will describe the major and minor divisions of the work, and in order to outline the larger topics covered I will discuss how one more standard topic is handled, and then what might be seen as a less obvious and certainly interesting contribution. I will end with a note on the term "Neoplatonism" itself.
Neoplatonism is a modern term.[note 1] The term neoplatonism has a double function as a historical category. On the one hand, it differentiates the philosophical doctrines of Plotinus and his successors from those of the historical Plato. On the other, the term makes an assumption about the novelty of Plotinus's interpretation of Plato. In the nearly six centuries from Plato's time to Plotinus', there had been an uninterrupted tradition of interpreting Plato which had begun with Aristotle and with the immediate successors of Plato's Academy and continued on through a period of Platonism which is now referred to as middle Platonism. The term neoplatonism implies that Plotinus' interpretation of Plato was so distinct from those of his predecessors that it should be thought to introduce a new period in the history of Platonism. Some contemporary scholars, however, have taken issue with this assumption and have doubted that neoplatonism constitutes a useful label. They claim that merely marginal differences separate Plotinus' teachings from those of his immediate predecessors. As a pupil of philosopher Ammonius Saccas, Plotinus used the knowledge of his teacher and predecessors in order to inspire the next generation.
Whether neoplatonism is a meaningful or useful historical category is itself a central question concerning the history of the interpretation of Plato. For much of the history of Platonism, it was commonly accepted that the doctrines of the neoplatonists were essentially the same as those of Plato. The Renaissance Neoplatonist Marsilio Ficino, for instance, thought that the neoplatonic interpretation of Plato was an authentic and accurate representation of Plato's philosophy. Although it is unclear precisely when scholars began to disassociate the philosophy of the historical Plato from the philosophy of his neoplatonic interpreters, they had clearly begun to do so at least as early as the first decade of the nineteenth century. Contemporary scholars often identify the German theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher as an early thinker who took Plato's philosophy to be separate from that of his neoplatonic interpreters. However, others have argued that the differentiation of Plato from neoplatonism was the result of a protracted historical development that preceded Schleiermacher's scholarly work on Plato.
Neoplatonism started with Plotinus in the 3rd century AD.[note 2] Three distinct phases in classical neoplatonism after Plotinus can be distinguished: the work of his student Porphyry; that of Iamblichus and his school in Syria; and the period in the 5th and 6th centuries, when the Academies in Alexandria and Athens flourished.
The Enneads of Plotinus are the primary and classical document of neoplatonism. As a form of mysticism, it contains theoretical and practical parts. The theoretical parts deal with the high origin of the human soul, showing how it has departed from its first estate. The practical parts show the way by which the soul may again return to the Eternal and Supreme. The system can be divided between the invisible world and the phenomenal world, the former containing the transcendent, absolute One from which emanates an eternal, perfect, essence (nous, or intellect), which, in turn, produces the world-soul.
Certain central tenets of neoplatonism served as a philosophical interim for the Christian theologian Augustine of Hippo on his journey from dualistic Manichaeism to Christianity. As a Manichee hearer, Augustine had held that evil has substantial being and that God is made of matter; when he became a neoplatonist, he changed his views on these things. As a neoplatonist, and later a Christian, Augustine believed that evil is a privation of good and that God is not material. When writing his treatise 'On True Religion' several years after his 387 baptism, Augustine's Christianity was still tempered by neoplatonism.
The term logos was interpreted variously in neoplatonism. Plotinus refers to Thales in interpreting logos as the principle of meditation, the interrelationship between the hypostases (Soul, Spirit (nous) and the 'One'). St. John introduces a relation between Logos and the Son, Christ, whereas Paul calls it 'Son', 'Image', and 'Form'. Victorinus subsequently differentiated the Logos interior to God from the Logos related to the world by creation and salvation.
Some early Christians, influenced by neoplatonism, identified the neoplatonic One, or God, with Yahweh. The most influential of these would be Origen, the pupil of Ammonius Saccas; and the sixth-century author known as Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, whose works were translated by John Scotus in the ninth century for the West. Both authors had a lasting influence on Eastern Orthodox and Western Christianity, and the development of contemplative and mystical practices and theology.
Various Persian and Arabic scholars, including Avicenna (Ibn Sina), Ibn Arabi, al-Kindi, al-Farabi, and al-Himsi, adapted neoplatonism to conform to the monotheistic constraints of Islam. The translations of the works which extrapolate the tenets of God in neoplatonism present no major modification from their original Greek sources, showing the doctrinal shift towards monotheism. Islamic neoplatonism adapted the concepts of the One and the First Principle to Islamic theology, attributing the First Principle to God. God is a transcendent being, omnipresent and inalterable to the effects of creation. Islamic philosophers used the framework of Islamic mysticism in their interpretation of Neoplatonic writings and concepts.[note 4]
In the seventeenth century in England, neoplatonism was fundamental to the school of the Cambridge Platonists, whose luminaries included Henry More, Ralph Cudworth, Benjamin Whichcote and John Smith, all graduates of the University of Cambridge. Coleridge claimed that they were not really Platonists, but "more truly Plotinists": "divine Plotinus", as More called him.
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