Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Department of Philosophy - Philosophy, Science and the Sciences

VL Plotinus

Menn, Stephen

Fri. 14-16, FRI 191, 5061 (Frist Session: April 13)

This VL and the HS on Plotinus are intended to be taken together, and will be a single continuous discussion: each Friday at 2pm discussion will begin where it left off the previous Friday at 6pm. The following description applies to both courses together.


We will read together through as many as possible of the central metaphysical treatises of Plotinus, in which he tries to construct and defend a systematic Platonist account of both the sensible and the intelligible world, answering traditional philosophical problems and trying to bring the reader to an intellectual grasp of the realities described. We will be concerned not only with his arguments but also with his interpretations of Platonic texts and his strategies for responding to Aristotle and the Stoics. We will begin with some “easy”, often early, treatises in which Plotinus typically adapts Aristotelian arguments (often turning on the priority of actuality to potentiality) in order to defend, against Stoics and Stoicizing interpretations of Plato, a “high” doctrine of incorporeal principles (quality, soul, Nous, etc.): that is, he defends the distinctness of these different levels of being and avoids attributing to higher levels of being predicates appropriate only to lower levels, e.g. avoids describing souls as spatially extended or Nous as beginning to act in time, even when Plato apparently describes them in this way. Then we will turn to “hard”, often later, treatises in which Plotinus tries to elaborate and defend a richer, distinctively Platonist, description of the intelligible world, against Aristotle's attempt to collapse it to a simple Nous without potentiality, motion, part-whole structure, or sufficient complexity to be a model for the sensible world. This typically takes place in treatises “On F”, where, for some value of F, Plotinus investigates whether F exists “there” (= in the intelligible world), and, if so, in what ways it is like and unlike F “here” (= in the sensible world); in the process, he may also have to critically reexamine what F is here. We will be particularly interested in Plotinus’ aporetic method in these treatises.


Students should have some prior work on Plato's and Aristotle’s theoretical philosophy. Prof. Menn intends to speak in English, but the discussion may go back and forth between English and German.