Authored by: Lloyd P. Gerson

Ancient Philosophy of Religion

Print publication date:  July  2013
Online publication date:  September  2014

Print ISBN: 9781844652204
eBook ISBN: 9781315729633
Adobe ISBN: 9781317546511


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In this chapter, I shall discuss the philosophy of religion of Plotinus (c.204–70) under three headings: general metaphysical principles; personal psychological aspects; and critique of alternative approaches. All of these need to be understood against the background of Plotinus’ unswerving Platonism. Plotinus did not aspire to originality; certainly not to the founding of a new philosophy, something that only in the eighteenth century came to be pejoratively referred to as ‘Neoplatonism’. Nevertheless, in the 600 or so years between Plato and Plotinus, an enormous amount of work appeared reflecting on the revelations of the ‘divine’ founder of the Academy. As Plotinus’ biographer and student Porphyry tells us (Life of Plotinus 14.10–25), an impressive amount of this material served as the starting-point for Plotinus’ philosophical seminars. In his defence of Plato against both older and newer opponents, and in his efforts to assess the various interpretations of Plato’s thought that had over time accrued, Plotinus did develop arguments and insights that we, if not he, would no doubt regard as original. I shall not here offer an opinion on the question of whether ‘Platonism’ is what Plato taught or whether it is what Plotinus (and his predecessors and disciples) created. In the matter of the philosophy of religion, this is an especially good question, as we are about to see.

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