BMCR 2007.10.11

Studi sull’anima in Plotino. Elenchos 42

, Studi sull'anima in Plotino. Elenchos ; 42. Naples: Bibliopolis, 2005. 412 pages ; 22 cm.. ISBN 8870884821. €50.00.

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

The volume is a collection of papers presented in a conference at Delphi and Padua. They are grouped in two sections, one discussing the various problems in Enn. IV 7, examining it chapter by chapter, and the other raising more general problems in Plotinus’ theory of the soul.

The contribution of Matthias Baltes and Cristina D’Ancona consists of two parts. Baltes offers a close reading of IV 7[2].8, a chapter discussing the notion of the soul as harmony, while D’Ancona surveys his interpretation of Plotinus and the Platonic notion of the immortality of the soul. In analyzing the text, Baltes supplies us with plenty of earlier parallels, beginning with Phaedo 88d-92d, and closes by referring to some Neoplatonic texts from the 6th century A.D. He shows that Plotinus is attacking the notion of the soul as harmony with the assumption that, by harmony, we have to mean the harmony of bodily ingredients, whereas many other Platonists were tempted to interpret it in the wake of the Timaeus where, by harmony, Plato refers to the proportionate structure of the various motions of the soul. In the Timaeus, the soul cannot be a harmonious arrangement of bodily parts for it is prior to the body. The Greek text of Plotinus does not specify what kind of mixture the soul is supposed to be, but the Arabic version says that, on this theory, the soul is a mixture of the four humours.1 Elsewhere, at VI 6 [41].16.43-45, Plotinus accepts a harmony theory expressed in terms of mathematical proportions. Surveying Baltes’ interpretation of the Platonic notion of the soul’s immortality, D’Ancona stresses that for him the main thesis making up a Platonic position is that there is an animating principle, itself divine and hence immortal, which manifests itself both in human beings and in the cosmos (51). She also mentions that, for Plotinus, immortality characterizes “all sorts and grades of the soul” (55). If so, one might ask how to explain Plato’s usage in the Timaeus, where appetite and spirit are called mortal parts of the soul (69c7-8).

Chiara Russi examines the three functions of the soul indicated in the tractate On providence (III 3 [48].4.6-13). They are tied to the notion of two λόγοι, one which produces things in the world below, and the other which connects the superior principles with the products. Russi’s thesis is that the connecting principle coincides at one level with the providential activity on account of which individual souls are distributed in a universe preformed by the productive principle, and at another level with the autonomous principle residing in human beings (63). Thus we get a threefold hierarchy, with the providence from above, which is the highest in rank, and the productive and connective principles respectively. The hierarchy seems to correspond to Plotinus’ threefold picture of the soul at IV 3 [27].11.14-21: (1) there is a soul that remains always in itself and has the function of a paradigm; (2) its most extreme part is connected to λόγοι ἔνυλοι and is productive of the things below, while (3) there is a middle soul connecting the uppermost soul with the productive one, which can also be seen as the inferior providence.

Eyjólfur Kjalar Emilsson discusses the problem of how the doctrine that the soul can be present as a whole throughout the body (IV 2 [4]; IV 7 [2]) can be squared with other remarks in the Enneads. One might think that Plotinus changed his mind on two related points. First, he says that the soul is not really in its body, but the body is in the soul (IV 3 [27].22). We do not find such a formulation in the early treatises. As the two theses seem to contradict one another, an explanation must be found for the inconsistency. In IV 2 [4], Plotinus does claim that the soul is in the body in a peculiar way, whereas in the later works he does not allow that. Second, he was taken to state in IV 2 that the whole soul is simultaneously divisible and indivisible, while according to the later treatises the soul has one divisible and one indivisible part that do not blend. As for the first point, Emilsson argues that there is no need to suppose a rupture in Plotinus’ development, only that minor modifications took place. He points out that “body in the soul” is equivalent to “soul present to body” (VI 4 [28].4.29-30). Thus we have two kinds of expression reflecting different points of view on the relation between body and soul. “Body in soul” represents the viewpoint of the body participating in the soul, whereas expressions such as “soul is present to body” witness the same relation from the viewpoint of the soul as descending into the world below. In responding to the second query, the explanation is that for no obvious reasons Plotinus leaves the rational soul out of the picture in IV 2.1. Perhaps it is because he was concentrating on the soul operating through the body.

Paul Kalligas shows that the criticism of the materialistic notion of the soul as a body is remarkable for not resting on premises specific to Platonist doctrines. The argument is carefully reconstructed to show that Plotinus’ intention was to refute Stoicizing notions by means that can be accepted by his opponents as well. Thus, by using ἀντιλαμβάνεσθαι, Plotinus tried to maintain a theoretically non-committing stance. The verb signifies all kinds of apprehension, sensory and intellectual alike, whereas κατάληψις mostly refers to sense-perception. The general strategy is to demonstrate that if there is intellectual cognition ( τὸ νοεῖν), then the soul is not corporeal. It is concerned with objects of intelligible nature. Relying on this point, Plotinus could also argue against the Aristotelian position.

Alessandro Linguiti deals with a similar problem and takes the same route of reconstructing Plotinus’ objections to the Stoic notion of the soul. That entails a critique of the view that virtue is also corporeal in a certain way. He reconstructs the line of thought as containing two, partly separate, arguments which start from the same premises: (1) virtues are situated in the soul, and (2) if one thing is situated in another, both are in the same division of nature (in this case, they are both either corporeal or incorporeal). The first argument takes the following route: (3) if the soul is corporeal, the virtues are also bodies, but (4) virtues (or some of them at least) are not bodies; therefore the soul cannot be corporeal either. The second argument continues like this: (5) virtues are eternal and permanent, and as such (6) they are incorporeal. As one of the conceptions behind the arguments, Linguiti mentions the thesis that qualities are incorporeal. To take the example of courage: if it is considered as the impassibility of the pneuma (123), and impassibility is a quality, then courage is incorporeal, which contradicts the Stoic doctrine.

Riccardo Chiaradonna focuses on the critique of the Stoic notion according to which body and soul form a perfect mixture ( κρᾶσις δῑ ὅλων), and compares it to passages with similar content in Calcidius and Priscian of Lydia’s Solutiones ad Chosroen. Plotinus rejects the idea that two bodies can interpenetrate one another, but accepts the thesis that the soul pervades the body, which leads to the conclusion that the soul cannot be bodily. The demonstration relies on earlier, traditional arguments, and Chiaradonna draws attention to a parallel text in Alexander of Aphrodisias’ Mantissa 116.5-13. The important difference between Alexander and Plotinus is that the latter considers two different conceptions of mixture: in mixing up with one another the ingredients (1) lose their being in actuality, or (2) can conserve their nature in the perfect compound. The second conception can be attributed to the Stoics. Plotinus uses the Stoic notion to describe the relation of soul to body, with the important modification that the soul is not corporeal. The first conception recalls Peripatetic ideas of how bodies can form a mixture. One might note that it is hard to say how this Peripatetic notion differs from the Stoic concept of “blending” ( σύγχυσις), in which the ingredients lose their peculiar nature. One possibility might be that the Peripatetic notion is of a blend from which the original ingredients can be recovered.

The aim of Christian Tornau’s paper is to clarify the arguments against the Aristotelian notion of the soul as “the entelechy of the natural, organic body that is potentially alive”. Plotinus very quickly reduces it to saying that the soul is an immanent form of the body (IV 7 [2].8.6). After sketching the unfair tendencies of ancient philosophical criticism, Tornau does his best to show that Plotinus’ objections were to some extent justified. They were directed against the Aristotelian notion of the vegetative soul. As the lowest layer, it is responsible for nutrition, growth and reproduction, and Plotinus takes it to be the ἐντελέχεια of the living body.2 When rejecting the idea of the soul’s inseparability from the body he relies very much on the problems concerning this part of the soul.

Examining the status of the individual human soul, Alexandrine Schniewind concentrates on the reason why they are called ἀμφίβιοι, a term which is a hapax in the Enneads. She examines the passage IV 8 [6].4.31-5 and sets it in a double context: the simile of the cave, which alludes to the soul chained by the sensible world, and the Timaeus‘ description of the mixing bowl where the Demiurge blends the World Soul and the human individual soul alike, which refers to the positive character of the individual soul as akin to the World Soul. The emphasis is on Plotinus’ account of the difference between these individual, amphibious souls: it is due to two factors, nature and chance. Here Plotinus does not elucidate the mechanism by which nature and chance determine the particular soul, but in IV 3 we find remarks that explain quite a lot. There are six features responsible for its differentiation (IV 3 [27].15.7-10): difference of the body, chance, education, difference in the souls themselves, differences due to all of these factors, and differences due to some of them only.3 As for the reason for the basic dualism in the individual soul, Schniewind suggests that Plotinus’ description is deliberately vague. In the last resort, the generation of the individual soul can be sufficiently described with reference to the similes of the cave and mixing bowl.

The second part of the collection starts with Mauro Bonazzi’s paper on the notion of sense-perception and awareness. The key text he refers to is Theaetetus 191cd, the description of the wax-tablet model. Plotinus rejects the model (III 6 [26].3.28-30; IV 6 [41].3.71-79) when criticizing Stoic theories. As Bonazzi notes — to my mind rightly — the model does not represent the Stoic views precisely (209). The main thrust of Plotinus’ critique is against the unity of perception (IV 7 [2].6.13-15), and relies on Plato’s arguments in Theaetetus 184b-186e. The upshot is the well-known thesis about the impassibility of the soul functioning by means of judgments. The soul is capable of acquiring knowledge only because of the capacity of judgment. The view that perceptions are in fact judgements depends on the thesis of the unity of the perceptual process. As an antecedent of such an approach Plotinus hints at the sceptic attack against the reliability of sensory experience (IV 6.1.28-32). Not only Hellenistic theories were exposed to the sceptical challenge, but certain Platonic doctrines in the early imperial age as well (221). Plotinus’ response to the challenge entails the revision of Plato’s dictum that the similar knows the similar. One might wonder, however, whether there is room in Plotinus for a distinction between awareness and judgement in the process of sense-perception. Even if judgement clearly entails awareness, still one might think of those two phenomena as distinct.

Irmgard Männlein-Robert compares Plotinus’ notion of the soul with the few remarks we have on Longinus’ views, and contrasts them both to Epicurean and to Stoic doctrines. The study reveals the similar attitudes the two Platonists showed towards their Hellenistic predecessors. They objected to the view that the soul is an ἀναθυμίασις, a view that renders it corporeal and perishable. Longinus seems to have criticized all sorts of materialistic tendencies, Stoic and Epicurean alike, though the evidence for his critique is extremely scanty. The comparison with Enn. IV 7 shows that the arguments against Hellenistic theories were much the same, which leads to the assumption that Plotinus and Longinus relied on the same traditional patterns. Männlein-Robert also suggests that the early phase of Plotinus’ thought was characterized by ideas shared by Longinus as well. One small difference is that Longinus refers to the Stoics by name, whereas Plotinus gives unnamed references only. In sum, in her view, the divergence between the two Platonists in Porphyry’s Vita Plotini seems to be a slight exaggeration.

Elena Gritti examines the Plotinian notion of φαντασία in connection with the assumption that the soul is not subject to affection. She concentrates on two schemes within which the capacity was discussed. On the one hand, the capacity is located between διάνοια and αἴσθησις; on the other hand, Plotinus is ready to speak about two φανταστικά in IV 3 [27].31. The latter may explain the claim that one aspect/part of the capacity deals with the sensible world, whereas the other is directed towards the intelligible. As an internal sense-perception, φαντασία forms τύποι that are intelligible in a certain way. It produces a unique image out of the many sensible qualities, while the contents of the intellect are developed into a λόγος, possessing propositional form (271). In playing such a role, φαντασία turns into a psychic analogue of matter, carrying various images that will be used by intellectual capacities.

Dimitri Nikulin examines the arguments for the individual nature of the soul. What are the conditions for a soul to possess an individual nature? Due to its participation in the divisible nature within bodies, the soul is both one and many (IV 9 [8].2.24-28; IV 2 [4].2.45-47). As a unitary entity it is one, but due to its descent into bodies it is many as well. Furthermore, the relation between the singe universal soul and the many embodied souls is explained with reference to the alternative Plotinus was faced with (IV 9.5.1-3). Either the universal soul is present in all individual souls, or they all come from the one that remains in its original state. Individual souls have a similar structure — they are both one and many — which is the result of their connection with the Intellect. The relation of the individual souls to one another and to the universal soul is defined by the aid of the one-many model of theoretical knowledge. Their unity with one another is understood not as actual, but rather “as a potential actualization of the theorems” (289). But this does not account for the nature of individuation. To explain it, one has to see not only the reason why the soul is manifold, but the nature of the differences as well. Plotinus rejects an account of individuation in terms of form if there only exist forms of universals (V 9 [5].12.8-11), and he also avoids assigning the principle of individuation to matter. Thus, he arrives at the conclusion that the individuality of the soul hinges on the existence of the forms of individuals. In the case of the soul, the difference is due to the λόγος that is present to a thing as a representation of the form. This is why the difference is called “logical” (see V 7 [18].3.7-13).4

Marco Zambon reconstructs Plotinus’ position on the vehicle of the soul. Understandably, he draws much on the various expositions of the issue we find in the Chaldaean Oracles, and in Iamblichus and Proclus. He also admits that Plotinus was not very much interested in the issue. The main source, however, is Porphyry, whose thesis depends on Plotinus’ answers to questions about the unity of body and soul in human beings. As a compromise between Platonic and Aristotelian notions of the separability of body and soul, the theory of the soul-vehicle also served to bridge the gap between Platonic and Hellenistic theories. Porphyry’s bipartite psychology determines his views on the soul-vehicle. There is an intellective substance, our true self, which is impassible and thus capable of leaving the bodily world, whereas the passionate part inclines towards the sensible world. Porphyry’s position is between the two extremes represented by Plotinus, with his notion of the undescended part of the individual soul, and Proclus, for whom the whole soul is encosmic with no parts remaining in the intelligible realm (318). Interestingly enough, Porphyry’s views were adopted by Iamblichus who considered the soul-vehicle a mediating entity between the rational soul and the body.

Iamblichus is also discussed in the paper by John Dillon, this time with the aim of elucidating his critique of Plotinus’ concept of the undescended part of the individual human soul. Plotinus also maintains that the non-rational part of the soul is exempt from affection. It is striking that he proves the claim by using Aristotelian arguments (III 6 [26].3.4-11, 27-35). Iamblichus criticizes the thesis of undescended individual soul in many places, notably in his De Anima (section 6 Dillon-Finamore = Stobaeus, Ecl. I 365.5-21 W.) and in Tim. (fr. 87 Dillon = Proclus, in Tim. III 334.3 – 335.2 Diehl). The strongest statement is to be found in ps.-Simplicius’ in DA, which says that the soul is a mean in the strongest possible sense. Thus it cannot remain in the intelligible world.

Finally, Giovanni Catapano turns to Augustine, where he finds traces of Plotinus’ concept of the soul. He points to striking textual parallels between Ep. 66 and De trinitate on the one hand and the Enneads on the other. He also investigates Augustinian influences in Hincmar of Reims (9th century). Augustine clearly refers to Plotinian doctrines in claiming ( De trinitate IV 6.8, see also Hincmar, De diversa et multiplici ratione animae 2, in Patrologia Latina CXXV 934D) that the whole soul senses ( tota sentit) and as a whole nothing escapes it ( totam non latet).

All in all, the book is a welcome contribution, not only to Plotinus, but also to the study of Neoplatonic theories of the soul in general. It is furnished with indices of ancient and medieval names, as well as of modern authors.


M. Baltes – C. D’Ancona, “Plotino, L’immortalità dell’anima. IV 7 [2], 8,” 19-59

C. Russi, “Provvidenza, λόγος connettivo e λόγος produttivo. Le tre funzioni dell’anima in enn. III 3 [48], 4.6-13,” 59-79

E. K. Emilsson, “Soul and μερισμός,” 79-95

P. Kalligas, “Plotinus against the corporealists on the soul. A commentary on Enn. IV 7 [2], 8.1-23,” 95-113

A. Linguiti, “Plotino contro la corporeità delle virtù. Enn. IV 7 [2],8,24-45,” 113-127

R. Chiaradonna, “L’anima e la mistione stoica. Enn. IV 7 [2],8,” 127-149

Ch. Tornau, “Plotinus’ criticism of Aristotelian entelechism in enn. IV 7[2],8.25-50,” 149-179

A. Schniewind, “Les âmes amphibies et les causes de leur différence. À propos de Plotin, enn. IV 8 [6], 4.31-5,” 179-200

M. Bonazzi, “Plotino, il Teeteto, gli Stoici. Alcune osservazioni intorno alla percezione e alla conoscenza,” 203-223

I. Männlein-Robert, “Longin und Plotin über die Seele. Beobachtungen zu methodischen Differenzen in der Auseinandersetzung platonischer Philosophen des 3. Jahrhunderts n.Chr. mit Epikur und Stoa,” 223-251

E. Gritti, “La φαντασία plotiniana tra illuminazione intellettiva e impassibilità dell’ anima,” 251-275

D. Nikulin, “Unity and individuation of the soul in Plotinus,” 275-305

M. Zambon, “Il significato filosofico della dottrina dell’ ὄχημα dell’ anima,” pp. 305-337

J. Dillon, “Iamblichus’ criticisms of Plotinus’ doctrine of the undescended soul,” 337-353

G. Catapano, ” Tota sentit in singulis. Agostino e la fortuna di un tema plotiniano nella psicologia altomedievale,” 353-401.


1. See A. Badawi, Aflutin ‘inda l-‘arab. Plotinus apud Arabes. Theologia Aristotelis et fragmenta quae supersunt (Cairo, 1966), 52.16-18.

2. One might be puzzled by the distinction Plotinus draws between soul and ἐντελέχεια in IV 7 [2].8.28-32. Aristotle’s response might rely on the definition according to which soul is an ἐντελέχεια of the organic body. Thus, if a part of a plant is withering, it might not be considered as living. Therefore, it cannot be related to the ἐντελέχεια of the living being either.

3. It is far from being clear how to account for the difference in the souls themselves. If it is not due to the influence of the body, or to education, is it to be found in the discarnate souls as well?

4. Interpretation of V 7 is vexed, to say the least. For a convincing case, see F. Ferrari, ‘Esistono forme di καθ’ ἕκαστα ? Il problema dell’ individualità in Plotino e nella tradizione platonica antica’, Atti della Accademia delle Scienze di Torino: Classe di Scienze Morali, Storiche e Filologiche 131 (1997), 23-63.