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As Plotinus notes, the spoudaios is not "unfriendly" aphilos or careless about others, but he cares about his own soul as he cares about his own affairs and the excellence of his companions. The wise man manifests intelligible unity and purity by being an earthly paradigm of the divine Nous , and so "renders to his friends all that he renders to himself, and so will be the best of friends due to his union with Nous " I 4.

Plotinus: Virtue Ethics

The wise man shares his eudaimonia by being present at the same time to his own self and the others See Porphyry Life 8. The power of philia traverses all the hypostases of being as it is identified with and derives from the supreme unity of the One V 1. Plotinus' theory of virtue ethics is closely related to human freedom and self-determination. An action is voluntary and depends on us not only if we are free and we are not obliged to act, but also if we are not following the path of reason without critical evaluation.

For Plotinus, an action depends purely on us only if the soul defines its own self as a self-determined principle VI 8. Furthermore, a distinction has been suggested between an inclusive notion of "what depends on us" that is, the moral action has its origins in the agent and an exclusive notion that is, the moral action has its origins in rational decisions and judgments not necessarily determined by the agent Eliasson For Plotinus, voluntariness and awareness of an action are not sufficient for an action to be depended on us, but from our wish coming through the contemplation of virtue.

Furthermore, for Plotinus, moral actions that are determined by external factors are related to passive dispositions, but true virtue should be based on the internal state of the soul in relation to intellect II 5. Moral agency reveals itself not primarily in ethical practice but in the excellence of the inner self in active contemplation of the Forms II 3.

The virtuous soul is purely dependent on its own self without considering external conditions or determinations; the free soul is self-determined only by internal conditions III 1; see also VI 8. The virtuous action is underlined by three conditions: firstly, an action is voluntary that is, we should not be forced to act ; secondly, an action must be conscious that is, we should have knowledge of what we are doing ; and, thirdly it must be self-determined that is, we should be masters of ourselves Eliasson A free and noble action is not justified or based mainly on practice praxis , but on the intellectual virtues of the soul as qualities of its intelligible self prior to moral action that is found in the perceptible realm VI 8.

Virtue is an active disposition of the soul in terms of contemplation theoria that ends in an established state of mind internally tuned and moderated in accordance to the perfection of the intelligible world. In light of this approach, well-being is not found in actions but in the inner contemplation of the soul. As Plotinus puts it, "To place eudaimonia in actions is to locate it in something outside virtue and the soul; the activity of the soul lies in thought, and action of this kind within itself; and this is the state of eudaimonia " I 5.

True happiness of a free and moral soul is not established in external situations and activities but in internal determinations and intellectual virtues I 5. Moreover, whereas Aristotle conceives of human freedom as related to the problem of choice and contingency, Plotinus of conceives human freedom in relation to the freedom of the self Leroux and the virtuous life of the wise person, without necessarily being defined by or dependent on voluntary choice Ennead VI 8.

What depends on us can be found in the realm of intellect "at rest from actions" VI 8. Plotinus' virtue ethics is a self-directed ethical theory that is related to his psychology and metaphysics. His ethical theory follows his theory of the psyche and its dual-aspect nature. The higher and lower virtues correspond to the higher intelligible and sense-perceptive parts of the soul Ennead I 3. Whereas the lower virtues are related to passions and the lower sense-perceptive part of the soul, the higher virtues are related to wisdom and dialectic and refer to the higher intelligible part of the soul I 3.

Plotinus aims to stress the superiority of the soul's higher intelligible part, which is its inner self and is contrasted with the soul's sufferings and passions of the lower sense-perceptive part, which is related to the outer self. Plotinus' dual-aspect theory of the soul is related to his account of transmigration and its ethical implications. It is noteworthy that Plotinus never uses the term metempsychosis reincarnation but only metensomatosis transmigration.

Plotinus adopts a monistic view of transmigration. A monistic approach to transmigration agrees with the ontological unity and homogeneity of the soul and the non-eschatological aspect of human destiny.


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The transmigration of the soul should be conceived of as illumination of the living bodies. The soul is not literally transmigrated, since the bodies are just shadows and images of the higher soul. The bodies are projections of the soul and so transmigration is the illumination of the light of the soul transmitted into different bodily forms and without affecting the unity of the soul.

Plotinus stresses the ethical implications of transmigration originally found in the Platonic dialogues Phaedo ; Republic X. His intention is to abolish the barriers between different psychic classes and hierarchies.

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Since the soul is one, homogenous, intelligible substance of life, all transmigrations into various life forms are possible humans, animals, plants and by extension, all animated bodies are rational and immortal IV 7. The logos of the soul manifests at different facets of life and being: the man who exercised political virtue becomes a man again, while the one who is not active in community becomes a bee; the man who loved music a song-bird; kings who ruled stupidly into eagles; those who lived with the senses animals; even plants for those who lived with the desire of flesh coupled with dullness of perception III 4.

Nevertheless, for Plotinus, whereas the transmigration of human souls into animal bodies is possible, the soul's destiny has nothing to do with transmigration I 1. It is not physical condition that affects the soul but the moral quality of the soul that affects the physical order, both of individual bodies and the cosmos. Plotinus denies an eschatological approach to transmigration for the soul's higher intelligible part. As an intelligible entity, the soul is pure and immortal logos and thus sinless in its very nature I 1.

Since the soul is sinless it cannot be judged or punished in after-life nor transmigrated by passing from body to body. The higher part of the soul never descends completely to the lower realm of the sensible world IV 8. Whereas Plotinus accepted transmigration of the soul in different forms and in terms of the soul's purity and immortality while denying the soul's bodily affection and sin, later Neoplatonists interpreted transmigration in different ethical terms: the evil man becomes a beast-like character and the sinful soul is temporarily associated with an animal body or form.

This is actually the central point of controversy between Plotinian and post-Plotinian accounts of transmigration. Whereas, for Plotinus, the ethics of transmigration is based on the non-hierarchical monism and homogenous, intelligible nature of the soul, for later Neoplatonists, transmigration is denied in terms of a hierarchical ontology in which the human soul possesses a higher ranking of existence in comparison to the other animals.

On the other hand, Iamblichus and Proclus rejected human transmigration to animals as far as human and animal souls are essentially different and even denied that animals have souls at all in the strict sense of the term Wallis, In contrast to the Gnostics and other misinterpretations of Plato, Plotinus maintains that the material universe is the most perfect possible image of the intelligible world; the material world reflects in the best possible way the beauty and goodness of the divine realm.

Ancient Philosophy of the Self

Plotinus evaluates the Gnostic conceptions of the world, history, and ethics in three corresponding forms of alienation: firstly, alienation from the world, secondly, alienation from history, and thirdly, alienation from society Kalligas For Plotinus, the Gnostics are deceived when they believe that the universe is created by a fallen soul II 9. They are mistaken when they regard the creative activities of the Demiurge as the result of a spiritual fall within the intelligible hierarchy II 9. Ennead II 9. However, it is not only concerned with a polemic against Gnosticism but also with a defence of Platonism against the immoral, irrational, and pessimistic doctrines of negative otherworldliness.

Plotinus shows his ethical standpoint on the value of human life. He distinguishes between two theoretical directions about the "end" telos of life Plotinus further divides the first theoretical direction into two schools of thought: 1 Epicurus and the Epicureans, who abolish divine providence and extol pleasure and enjoyment ; 2 the Gnostics, who are pessimistic about the material world and promote an ascetic life without virtue and goodness Prima facie the classification of the Epicureans and the Gnostics into the same category is puzzling: whereas the Epicureans were known for their hedonistic views, the Gnostics were known for their ascetic and detached views.

According to another perspective, Plotinus perhaps considers a common alienated attitude both in the Epicurean life of pleasure and in the Gnostic life of asceticism. For Plotinus, the Gnostics are immoral for neglecting the role of virtue in human life and noetic ascent. The Gnostics omit to define virtue, and they fail to explain how to attain the higher world without virtue. No treatise is devoted to virtue, and their treatment of virtue is completely absent from their doctrines: "they do not tell us what kind of thing virtue is, nor how many parts it has, nor about all the many noble studies of the subject to be found in the treatises of the ancients, nor from what virtue results and how it is to be attained, nor how the soul is taking care of itself, nor how it is purified.

Plotinus further relates virtue to beauty and the divine II 9. Perceptible beauty is a reflection of the intelligible beauty, and the wise soul is able to recognize the beauty and goodness of the intelligible world through an inner sight to the perceptible world II 9. Plotinus justifies the difference between Platonic and Gnostic otherworldliness.

Plotinus on self : the philosophy of the "we"

Plotinus defends Plato and the beauty of the earthly world by using the metaphor of two people living in the same fine house, "one of whom reviles the structure and the builder, but stays there none the less, while the other does not revile, but says the builder has built it with the utmost skill, and waits for the time to come in which he will go away, when he will not need a house any longer" II 9.

Virtue forces the soul to recognize both itself and its divine origins and to guard itself against the strokes of fortune The higher soul of the universe is not troubled; "it has nothing that it can be troubled by.

Porphyry stressed the importance of purification in virtue ethics and particularly the significance of purification in self-knowledge and the care of soul. He underlined the necessity of detachment from the soul's bodily pleasure and irrational passions, its inconsideration of pains produced by sense-objects, and any kind of inclination on the part of the soul to the corporeal world. For Porphyry, the virtuous soul achieves impassibility by completely removing bodily dispositions Sententiae Porphyry suggested a specific scale of the cardinal virtues following an ascending exposition of the soul's need for purification: from the lower civil and practical life of the earthly realm to the higher paradigmatic life of the intelligible Forms.

The scale of virtues begins P1 from the level of political virtues and civic life, continues P2 to the level of purificatory virtues and soul's primal noetic ascent, P3 to the theoretical virtues of the contemplative mind, and P4 to the exemplary or paradigmatic virtues of the intelligible world.

The cardinal virtues of courage, self-control, justice, and wisdom apply throughout the four levels or states of being.

Plotinus Introduction

Whereas the object of the "civic virtues" P1 is to moderate passions and to conform conduct to the laws of human nature, the "purificatory virtues" P2 detach the soul completely from passions. The object of the "contemplative virtues" P3 is to apply to the soul pure intellectual activities, without any concern about passions, while the paradigmatic virtues P4 are the exemplars and archetypes of all other virtues Sententiae Porphyry begins section 32 of the Sententiae with the application of virtues to different states of human experience and focuses on different expressions of virtues with respect to different levels of purification: between the virtues of the citizen, the virtues of the soul that attempts to rise to contemplation, the virtues of the soul that purely contemplates intelligence, and finally the mind that possesses pure intelligence and that is completely separated from the bodily level of the soul As Porphyry summarizes, "the practical virtues make man virtuous spoudaios ; the purificatory virtues make man divine daimonios , or make the good man a benign spirit daimon agathos ; the one who acts only in accordance to contemplative virtues becomes a god theos ; while the one who acts in accordance with the paradigmatic virtues is the father of gods theon pater " translation Guthrie, , modified.

Furthermore, Porphyry places an emphasis on the political virtues and their civic importance as the first stage of excellence in terms of moderation of the passions metriopatheia and appropriate moral duty underlined by pure reason. For Porphyry, political virtues contribute to the harmonious civic life with fellow human beings and "mutually unite all citizens". The political virtues are human virtues and a necessary precondition to the noetic ascent of the soul to the higher realms. There is a necessity to exercise humanity in the self before its application to fellow-humans or the purification at higher levels of being Sententiae 32, For Porphyry, the contemplative man is detached from the political sphere and the virtues possessed are called "purifications" since they aim at higher realities and genuine existences.

The soul of the contemplative man is raised above the passions of the earthly life to the intelligible realm and in likeness to the divine. However, as Porphyry clarifies, there is "a difference between purifying oneself, and being pure" The role of purificatory virtues is twofold: they both purify the soul and coexist as qualities in the purified soul.

The importance of the purificatory virtues lies in their power to release the soul completely from any form of evil, either the one related to lower things or the one related to passions. The political virtues release the soul only from passions At a level higher than the purficatory virtues, Porphyry places the contemplative virtues, "the virtues of the soul that contemplates intelligence". The purified soul directs its activities to the higher intelligible realm, and the four cardinal virtues manifest different kinds of qualities of the soul in constant contemplation of the intelligible beings Finally, Porphyry suggests a fourth kind of virtues, the paradigmatic virtues, which belong to the realm of the Forms and reside within the higher Nous.

At the intelligible level of the Forms, the virtues are identified with specific intelligibles noeta. Porphyry's claim has been considered a departure from Plotinus' position in Ennead I 2 by following Aristotle that virtues should not be seen as archetypes in the intelligible world of the Forms. However, Porphyry follows Plotinus in claiming that one who possesses the superior virtues also possesses the lower virtues, but not vice versa. In fact, one who possesses the higher virtues is not interested in practicing the lower virtues. Furthermore, Porphyry underlines the intrinsic value of virtues by upgrading their ontological status, while Plotinus highlights their psychological value in the soul's noetic purification.

For Porphyry, the superiority of the paradigmatic virtues, compared with the virtues of the soul, lies in the fact that the virtues of the soul are images of the "archetypal" paradigmatic virtues, and so they subsist in the divine Nous simultaneously As Porphyry synopsizes: "1, the paradigmatic virtues, characteristic of intelligence, and of the being or nature to which they belong; 2, the virtues of the soul turned towards intelligence, and filled with her contemplation; 3, the virtues of the soul that purifies herself, or which has purified herself from the brutal passions characteristic of the body; 4, the virtues that adorn the man by restraining within narrow limits the action of the irrational part, and by moderating the passions" ; translation Guthrie , modified.

The (onto)logical monstrosity of the placenta

Iamblichus added two more virtues below the political: the natural virtues at the lowest level and the ethical virtues below the political virtues , as well as the hieratic virtues at the highest level of the scale. Iamblichus' scale of virtues, following an ascending order is: 1 natural; 2 ethical; 3 civic; 4 purifying; 5 contemplative; 6 paradigmatic and 7 hieratic apud Damascius, In Phaedo I.

He emphasized the importance of "habituation" ethismos at the level of ethical virtues and highlights the classical association between virtue and habituation hexis found in Plato and Aristotle.