Plotinus on the Union of Intelligibles and Intellect

Written by on June 24th, 2013. Subject: Philosophy. Filed in Epistemology, about Plotinus Enneads

|||Plotinus. Enneads in Loeb Classical Library trans. A.H. Armstrong. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984. V.|||

Plotinus and his Intelligibles But, since one must bring in knowledge and truth and watchfully preserve reality (τὰ ὅντα) and the knowledge of what each thing is (γνῶσιν τοῦ ἕκαστον)–but not [only] the knowledge of each thing’s qualities (ποῖόν τι ἕκαστον), since [if we only had that] we should have an image and a trace of realities, and not possess and live with and be fused with the realities themselves–we must attribute all [real existences] to the true Intellect. Bk V 5.2

Plotinus in Book V of his “Enneads” points out a key epistemological problem over a millennium before it became a central topic of philosophical speculation. When René Descartes made his classic division of the world into the respective realms of thinking and extended things, he began a conversation in the West that alternately emphasized one of the two over the other, until they were finally brought together to eliminate the possibility of real knowledge in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. This conversation concerned the possibility, or lack thereof, of a real knowledge of things themselves due to the mind’s inability to abstract itself beyond subjective experience. The mind is utterly alien from the object of its knowledge, at least considered apart from the conditioning of the mind. Thus true reality must be resolved into either the realm of thought or the realm of extension.

Although there is a great deal of time separating the two periods of philosophical speculation, Plotinus in his treatment of the intelligibles seems to consider the notion of separating the intelligibles from Intellect to be an irrational one. To make that assumption involves a contradiction that both flies in the face of human experience and is refuted in the very act of knowledge. Regardless of whether one thinks there is a connection between knower and known, one can hardly fail to observe that they certainly seem to in the act of knowing. Indeed, although there have been many attempts in recent years on the part of reductionists to define the mind as nothing more than a complex arrangement of neurons and synapses, the reality of reflexive self-consciousness still eludes their measurements. Particularly in the operations of inquiry and understanding, the underlying cause of knowledge still remains unexplained by the scientific method. This is perhaps because the union of knower and known cannot be understood apart from their unity and their mutual participation in a cosmic Intellect which suffuses Itself throughout the entire universe.

About Thomas Chaney

Thomas Chaney graduated from the College of St. Thomas More in 2007, and is currently pursuing a MA in Philosophy at the University of Dallas. He currently works as a Scholar’s Associate in Philosophy with the Walsingham Society School of Liberal Studies.

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