BMCR 1999.07.07

Plotin, Enneaden VI 4-5 [22-23]. Ein Kommentar

, Plotin, Enneaden VI 4-5 (22-23) : ein Kommentar. Beiträge zur Altertumskunde ; Bd. 113. Stuttgart-Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1998. 519 pages ; 24 cm.. ISBN9783519076629 DM 168.

The aim of the book, a revised Göttingen-PhD, is to elucidate the arguments in Plotinus’ work on the presence of being, one and the same, everywhere as a whole, which — due to Porphyry’s editing — has come down to us in the form of two treatises. Tornau’s comments concern both philological and philosophical issues. The text on which his discussion is based is the editio minor by Paul Henry and Hans-Rudolf Schwyzer; occasional dissensions are listed on p. 13. Towards the end (pp. 499-509) we find a summary of Plotinus’ thoughts which allows us to surmise the author’s own interpretation. The book ends up with an adequate bibliography but, unfortunately, does not contain indices.

As Porphyry tells us in his biography of Plotinus, “Once I, Porphyry, went on asking him for three days about the soul’s connection with the body, and he kept on explaining to me” ( VP 13.11-13, trans. by A.H. Armstrong). Many passages in his Sententiae witness that he was seriously engaged in explaining these problems: sections XXX-XXXI can be considered as a short commentary to Enn. VI 4-5. This was a central point, indeed, for Plotinus’ metaphysics as well, all the more because the relationship of the soul with the body can be regarded as the special case of the link between the intelligible realm and the sensible world. This connection indicates the subject of Enneads VI 4-5: while remaining the same the idea informs each individual thing of the sensible world without taking over their dividedness and suffering any loss in this process.

Tornau’s work is an analytical commentary of Plotinus’ treatises and therefore it is difficult to summarize the moral he draws from the text. The commentary is meticulous and careful and sometimes contains short essays elucidating certain passages. In what follows, first I shall be talking about some of issues which, displayed in exemplary clarity, offer to my mind highly rewarding reading. Next I shall be discussing some points in which I dissent from his views; on occasions, my dissension is far from being substantial.

Right at the beginning (15-21) Tornau devotes two long paragraphs to Plotinus’ analysis of the status of the soul. He develops Plato’s notion of participation in a way that ideas are connected to the sensibles via the soul. As the ideas constitute the content of the Intellect and become λόγοι in the soul, we can say that the soul is nothing but the Intellect working in the corporeal world (cf. V 8,7,14-16). Here Plotinus faces the problem of how the soul can penetrate the body. He rejects both accounts we can decipher from the Timaeus : (1) as a necessary accompaniment the soul is extended all along the body (35A), (2) the World-Soul envelops the body of the world (36E) and thus, in its wholesale presence, the soul would depend on the body. In interpreting Timaeus 35A Plotinus displays great independence insofar as he takes νοῦς as indivisible and the bodies as divided (IV 2,1,11-29). While the soul remains essentially indivisible, it is divided incidentally through the contact with the body (IV 2,1,33-37, see also IV 3,19,7-11). Plotinus thus transformed the original problem: the emphasis is now on how the soul can get in touch with the body. But I cannot think that we are allowed to downgrade earlier interpretations as taking the passage at 37A1-3 for a dogmatic proposition. No doubt, arithmetical and geometrical approaches can rely on Plato’s text, but the same holds true of Plotinus’ interpretation as well. Furthermore, Platonists in the early imperial period were not uniform in preferring mathematical explanation: Proclus ( in Tim. II 153.25-154.1) lists Plutarch and Atticus working out an explanation in “physical” terms. He also adds (154.1 ff.) that Plotinus and his followers adapted a more philosophical interpretation but the contrast with previous views is that they placed the soul between νοῦς and αἴσθησις. How, then, can the indivisible soul be present at the divided bodies? The sketch of Plotinus’ answer is to be found in VI 2. Tornau traces (pp. 34-40) the sources and shows that, along with Timaeus 35A, Plotinus drew heavily on Parmenides 131A-E: his answer to the dilemmas exposed here is that the assumption of intelligible being makes sense only if we think of a unity which is not subject to multiplicity in space. The argument in Parmenides 131A-E leads to aporia because the nature of the ideas has not been clarified. For this reason the measure of all kinds of being will be the corporeal things. Thus the ideas are also taken to show features characteristic of bodies, such as being divisible and spatial (p. 48). It goes without question that for a Platonist the soul must be separable from the body (p. 87), but there were Platonists who denied the transcendence of the soul.1

It has been rightly emphasised (61) that bodies participate in the intelligible according to their ἐπιτηδειότης. 2 Looking for the origin of the notion Tornau draws attention to Aristotle’s De Anima I 3, 407b12-26 where soul is defined as the form of a physical body which is potentially alive. To my mind, however, in Plotinus difference in deficiency is a structural moment of the matter. But it is the form that must be responsible for that. At any rate, deficiency is not uniform but varying. Where does this variety come from? Talk of προυπογραφή or, in later Neoplatonist, ἔμφασις does not indicate a clear way-out of the difficulty either. The distinction between compelling and persuasive arguments at the juncture of VI 4,4 separates the first part of VI 4, where arguments are intended to be compulsive and irrefutable, from the second part in which the aim is to persuade (pp. 90-93). Usually, the distinction is taken to be between dialectical and rhetorical reasoning. Tornau shows that the division is due to the subject-matter itself: compelling arguments can only be given at the level of νοῦς; by contrast, at the level of ψυχή we can argue with plausibility only (see V 3.6). His inference, however, that to have indubitable insight we have to transcend the level of discursive thinking seems overstated. We must qualify what kind of truth we are talking about, e.g., our soul receives the notion of the good from the νοῦς in the way that it is endowed with the standard ( κανών) whereby to call something or someone good. This is not a sheer perceptual knowledge. A type of certainty can thus be reached at the level of the soul as well (V 3,3,1-11). Secondly, if the soul is number (VI 4,4,19-21) then thinking discursively about numbers takes place at the level of soul again. How can we say that conclusions and mathematical theorems are not necessary?

Connected to a recent controversy, Tornau remarks (p. 111) that individual souls do not lose their individuality when getting free of bodily influences (VI 4,4,40-42, IV 3,5,8-14). As the soul is a kind of form, from this one can safely infer that Plotinus accepted the existence of ideas of the individuals.3 Not independently from this, one could ask why the soul extends only to parts which are added to the body through growth but not to other distinct bodies (pp. 129-135). In other words, why do two separate bodies never have identical consciousness? To respond to the question is all the more important because the transcendent unity of the individual soul is derived from the unity of sense-perception ( συναίσθησις). But how is it possible that the sum of souls, the soul as hypostasis, does not possess συναίσθησις ? Plotinus’ answer is based on the distinction between αἴσθησις as πάθος and αἴσθησις as κρίσις (VI 4,6,7-20, see also III 6,1,1-4; IV 4,22,30-33; 23,37-43). Accordingly, as a result of receiving the form of the sensible object by the senses πάθος belongs to the living and sensing body while κρίσις — sense-perception in the strict sense — means discrimination of πάθη.4 If αἴσθησις is primarily a πάθος, the unity of αἴσθησις depends on the unity of the underlying body. But unity of the body involves its continuity which in turn enables the soul to be present at the whole body and make it sensing. But I do not see in what sense we can call perceptual judgement intuitive (p. 140). The distinction between κρίνειν and λέγειν may refer to a distinction between judgement and its utterance or formulation. But the text may say a little bit more. The relevant portion of VI 4 runs as follows (6, 16-17): ἐπεὶ οὐδὲ παρ’ ἡμῖν ἡ ὄψις τῇ ἀκοῇ λέγει, καίτοι ἔκριναν ἄμφω, ἀλλὰ ὁ λογισμὸς ἐπ’ ἀμφοῖν· τοῦτο δὲ ἕτερον ἀμφοῖν. Now, a λογισμός is set over all the particular senses which can nevertheless judge, the judgemental capacity of the senses is restricted to reflecting on the activity of the sense itself only.5 Connecting perceptions of different kinds is the task of λογισμός. Alternatively, we may be allowed to say that by being capable of κρίνειν sense-perception can be propositional. This also fits in with the meaning of λόγος Tornau reveals here (pp. 226-228); it can mean either the rational statement or the thing of which such statement can be made, that is the thing which is endowed with a rational structure. Furthermore, it has also been emphasised that besides that “horizontal” meaning λόγος can also refer to a “vertical” relation: e.g., soul can be called λόγος τοῦ νοῦ (see also IV 3, 5, 17-18; 9, 48-9).

To avoid infinite regress in the form of the “third man” argument, Plotinus criticizes one of the presuppositions underlying the argument (p.251). Thus, there are two mutually exclusive forms of being F: either something has F in virtue of participating in F or it is F itself. The latter rules out participation in F and therefore we cannot call for an F’. Self-participation which involves — in this context — denial of self-predication as well is thus denied. Participation is characteristic of incomplete entities. But it does not seem to be an obvious answer to the query of self-predication. Plotinus might have thought that exclusion of self-participation implies rejection of self-predication, but to make it clear more explanation may be needed on behalf of the commentator. Tornau seems to accept that Plotinus is far from being definitive on this point.6

On pp. 371-376 we find an excellent discussion of the circle-metaphor which serves to illustrate the way in which multiplicity comes about. On pp. 371-372 we find a complete list of the occurrences of the metaphor. It can pertain to a great variety of relations (e.g., sense-perception to soul, νοῦς to the multiplicity of forms, νοῦς to the One) because on Plotinus’ view superior beings are related to inferior ones as the one refers to the many. The circle in the metaphor is not only a symbol but true bearer of the features intelligible entities are endowed with, even if it contains them discursively.

Some small points. I am not sure that for Plotinus ontological priority of the soul over the body involves temporal priority as well (p. 21). Tornau does not refer to passages to support the case. κρᾶσις δῑ ὅλων is not used in the passage referred to (IV 7,82, see p. 22), for the term, see II 7,1,1. The Stoics illustrated it with a wine drop being extended through water, SVF II 479 (= D.L. VII 151), 480 (= Plutarch, De comm. not. 37, 1078E). Plotinus used Stoic categories for his own purposes as well, e.g., see ἐν σχέσει καὶ τῷ πρός τι κεῖσθαι (VI 3,11,9). This is not a reference to Aristotle (p. 43). The index fontium in HS2 ( Phys. IV 4, 212a5-6) does not apply to this point. For Aristotle, place does not exist separately from the body of which it is the place ( pace p. 44). It is the immanent motionless boundary of the container ( Phys. 211b20 ff.). Again (p. 45), for Aristotle the cosmos can be in place in a way — only accidentally of course ( Phys. 212b11-22). As for the effort to clean the νοῦς from all kinds of links to the material world (p. 72), it seems to me that on discussing how the heavens are “closer” to νοῦς Plotinus could not eliminate every reference to place (VI 3,17,1-12). The same holds true of the description of bodies “striving” for soul (p. 105). This metaphorical speech hints at a psychic force within bodies not yet contacting the soul. Contrary to what we read on p. 90 the difference between World-Soul and individual soul may not necessarily be considered essential by all Platonists. Theodorus of Asine (test. 26 Deuse, ap. Proclus, in Tim. III 246.32-247.11) posited two mixing-bowls, just like Atticus (fr. 14 des Places, ap. Proclus, in Tim. III 247.12-15), and the latter thought that the difference is qualitative only. Thus the substantial unity of the realm of the soul remains unchallenged.7 The use of the label “dualism” to denote the relation between ἕν and ἀόριστος δυάς might be misleading in this Platonic context (pp. 99-100). Dualism in strict sense implies two active principles whose conflict produces our world. In Plato, however, the testimonies do not indicate that ἀόριστος δυάς would be equally active. It is a passive principle throughout, waiting to be informed by the One. I am not sure either ( pace p.113) that in Sent. 15 Epicurus treats πέρας and ἄπειρον in such a way. In fact, I do not see any relevance in Epicurus’ statement to the issue under discussion. The argument in Aristotle, De Anima I 5, 411b6-9 may not be directed against a Platonic tripartition of the soul where the different parts are assigned to different bodily organs (p. 147). Aristotle, too, has different locations, e.g., the thinking part in the heart, not in the brain as Plato did ( PA II 2, 648a6-8; 4, 650b35-6). In itself, the use of συνέχον in Aristotle does not imply local unity; it may also well be that the part that holds the soul together is lodged in a distinct organ of the body from which it exerts influence over the other parts of the soul. We can take the Demiurge and the ideas as the same (p. 208); more exactly, we can consider the Demiurge as the active aspect of the ideas. But why should we think that the concept of Demiurge makes sense only in a temporal (that is, literal) interpetation of the Timaeus ? Plotinus favored a non-literal interpretation.8 P. 209: causa formalis and causa efficiens are not quite the same in Aristotle. If we take the formula ἄνθρωπος γὰρ ἄνθρωπον γεννᾷ, then the formal cause — either we accept the notion of particular form or not — is the species which is given over in the act of begetting, while efficient cause is the man who begets. The two do not coincide simpliciter. The only thing to add to the definition of man (on p. 268) as συναμφότερον of soul and λόγος (VI 7, 5, 3-4) is that the λόγοι constituting man are not different from the soul: they are its ἐνέργεια (VI 7, 5, 8-9). Tornau is well aware of the second passage as well (p. 267) but seems to overstate the difficulty of relating this notion to one according to which ζῷον is συναμφότερον of soul and body. P. 408: to my mind, the passage at III 6, 7, 25 is a clear reference to φαντασία. The mirror-simile goes back to Timaeus 71B4 where liver is said to be composed by the god in a way to have bright and smooth surfaces which can mirror images. The difference between σύνεσις and συναίσθησισις described as if the former can mean all kinds of self-consciousness (including self-thinking of the νοῦς), while the latter in the strict sense refers to the perception of the percipient’s body (pp. 453-454). But it has already been pointed out that the two terms have a very similar meaning in many cases; e.g., though it may refer to awareness of other objects as well, συναίσθησισις can signify an awareness by the νοῦς of the One as its source (V 1, 7, 10-13).9 The kind of grasp referred to by ἀθρόα ἐπιβολή may not only be unified (p. 489) but also instantaneous.

All in all, my impression is that Tornau’s book is thorough and offers rewarding reading even if it is not free of occasional repetitions. But he gives us plenty to think about. I am sure that all of us turning to these difficult treatises will find the commentary very helpful and for that alone the reader will be in the commentator’s debt.


1. Some Platonists say that ψυχὴ ἀεὶ τῷ σώματι, see Stob. I 378.1 ff. W. (drawing perhaps on Iamblichus). Strictly speaking this is not to say that the soul is mortal for one can assume that in the very moment someone dies the soul transmigrates (“leaps over”) into another body. Transmigration is thus instantaneous. For a general discussion, see M.O. Young, ‘Did some Middle-Platonists deny the immortality of the soul?’, Harvard Theological Review 68 (1975), 58-60. On the Platonist Ptolemy, see A. Dihle, ‘Der Platoniker Ptolemaios’, Hermes 85 (1957), 314-325, who makes him contemporary to Iamblichus. Against this assumption, see P. Moraux, Der Aristotelismus bei den Griechen. Vol.1, Berlin-N.Y. 1973, 60, n.6

2. For the origin of the term, see R.B. Todd, ‘ EPITEDEIOTES in philosophical literature: Towards an analysis’, Acta Classica 15 (1972), 25-35.

3. The status quaestionis has been described by P. Kalligas, ‘Forms of Individuals in Plotinus: A Re-examination’, Phronesis XLII (1997), 206-228, arguing that Plotinus endorsed the view that there are ideas of the individuals.

4. Up to this point, the solution echoes Aristotelian ideas; on κρίσις in Aristotle, see Th. Ebert, ‘Aristotle on What is Done in Perceiving’, Zeitschrift für philosophishe Forschung 37 (1983), 181-198. But Plotinus’ terminology is not settled, as Tornau shows.

5. On the passage see also H.J. Blumenthal, Plotinus Psychology. The Hague 1971, 102; H. Benz, “Materie und Wahrnehmung in der Philosophie Plotins. Würzburg 1990, 187 n.22.

6. Another point, the direct participation by the participants in the idea, has been stressed by S.K. Strange, ‘Plotinus’ Account of Participation in Ennead VI 4-5′, JHS 30 (1992), 479-497.

7. On the whole issue, see Proclus, in Tim. III 246.29-250.28 Diehl. Both Atticus (fr.7 = Eusebius, Praep. Ev. XV 9.1-4) and Theodorus (test. 35 = Proclus, in Tim. 246.23-27) stood for the essential unity of the World-Soul and the individual soul. Plotinus supposed that Plato had thought of two mixing bowls (IV 8,4,35-39).

8. See J. Dillon, ‘The Riddle of the Timaeus‘, M. Joyal (ed.), Studies in Plato and the Platonic Tradition. Essays Presented to John Whittaker. Aldershot 1997, 25-43, and M. Baltes, Die Weltentstehung des platonischen Timaios nach den antiken Interpreten. Vol.1, Leiden 1976, 123-136.

9. See F. M. Schroeder, ‘Synousia, Synaisthesis and Synesis: Presence and Dependence in the Plotinian Philosophy of Consciousness’, ANRW II 36.1, 677-699.