Ennead IV.4.30-45 & IV.5:
Problems Concerning the Soul.
Trans, Intro, & Comm. By Gary M. Gurtler, SJ.
Pp.363, Las Vegas/Zurich,
Parmenides Publishing, 2015, $47.00.
In this third and last part of ‘Problems Concerning the Soul’, Plotinus takes up three final problems or aporiai; insights from the first two parts are used to attack the popularly-credited influence of the planets on human enterprises, and the attendant problem of their memory and cooperation with evil. Confronted with the potentially reductionistic astronomy of Ptolemy and the medical lore of Galen, Plotinus complemented his Platonic sense of the cosmos as a single living thing (Timaeus 30d-31a) with the Stoic notion, notably compatible with a thorough-going materialism, of a ‘cosmic sympathy’ by which the cosmos is sympathetic with itself, and everything in it is sympathetic with everything else. Each thing has two ‘acts’, its core identity, and an aura or ‘effluvium’ that reaches out and washes over everything else. Plotinus is thus at pains to demonstrate that we are not forced to choose between a reductionistic materialism and a more consoling traditional mythic account; it is ‘both/and’ rather than ‘either/or’.
In medicine for example all a doctor can do with a break is often to move the affected pieces close to one another. They then ‘advance’ towards one another in sympathy and knit themselves back together again. Nature herself shows that materialism does not exclude purpose or mutual adaptation. Similarly, we need fear no influence of the planets on our enterprises, or any other superstition; the souls of the planets have no memories and are always directed toward the intelligible realm, as ours should be, whereby our souls become similarly immune to the slings and arrows of fortune. The souls of persons whose attention sinks to material objects are buffeted by external objects. Plotinus defends a strict theodicy – the gods and higher souls (planets) are only responsible for the good, although how we receive this influence can turn them to evil; further, a strict justice pervades the cosmos, such that every infraction will be punished. There is thus to reason to become upset by the apparent success of an evil person. The second of the two acts of each object is also invoked to explain apparent action at a distance (which even after Newton we still cannot ‘explain’) and sight of a distant object; as an expression of the cosmic sympathy, for Plotinus these both are manifestations of how all things reach out to take account of one another.
Patrick Madigan, Heythrop College