Friday, December 15, 2006


The question was posed in a comment: What is neoplatonism? I now take it upon myself to provide an answer.

It should first be noted that "neoplatonism" is a label. Labels are for curators of museums, not for actual thinking. Living thought needn't fuss with labels. Who cares what "-ism" a thought reflects? The thought is either a fool's or a wise man's.

I do not deny that some labels can be useful; I only point out that all labels tend to mislead. I refer my readers to the Wikipedia article on Neoplatonism for a discussion of the label's various applications.

I'd prefer to tout my own favorite Neoplatonists:

1. Boethius - The Consolation of Philosophy heads my list. C.S. Lewis observed that there was a time no one could be considered educated were they ignorant of this book. When I'm locked up in prison I hope that the book I write is at least half as influential.

2. Augustine - In the Confessions Augustine says the certain "libri platonisti" gave him a sneak preview of John's claim that "in principio erat verbum." What better reason could there be to dive into the whacky world of...

3. Plotinus - The Enneads nourished W.B. Yeats as well as Augustine. Penguin publishes the McKenna edition Yeats was familiar with.

4. Marsilio Ficino - Borders sells the beautiful four volume set of Ficino's Platonic Theology. I own three. I needn't remind my more learned readers that Ficino's work is modelled on Aquinas's Summa Contra Gentiles.


Whiskey said...

Many, I believe, would say that Aquinas himself is a sort of neo-Platonist.

Hansonius said...

A point well made, in my opinion. Isn't Pseudo-Dionysius (a "Platonic" thinker) the most frequently quoted author in the Summa? And then there is the Summa's structure: exitus and reditus.

If calling Aquinas "Neoplatonic" is overstating the case, I still think it's helpful to tug peoples' minds away from the simple identification of Thomas as "Aristotelian."

mccaleb said...

but wasn't Aristotle really just a Platonist?

*looks innocent*

Hansonius said...

Aristotle was certainly influenced by Plato: Aristotle's greatness is a reflection of the teacher's greatness. But Aristotle did have serious problems with Plato's conception of forms. The form of horse cannot exist apart from actual horses unless it be in an intellect.

The two had real disagreements: that's exciting and don't settle for less.

Ryan said...

Jamie -

So how are these books, really? I assume you find them valuable since you've bought three of the four volumes. Would I enjoy reading him? How is his Latin? Would you e-mail me and let me know more of what you think about them?

tattatu said...

Aristotle and Aquinas loathed Plato. Ask Locke or Bacon and they'll give it to you straight. Augustine was beaten by his Greek teacher - tells you something of the sort of schools we have now - neoplatonists have one category for bastards - everyone but themselves.

tattatu said...

Aristotle used Plato in his apologetics; like Augustine wrote about the Manicheans. Geesh, many I believe are the cryptocalvinists who would have everyone believe in Bigfoot - because if you believe that than any math works - cryptos undermine democracy with their sick ideas about purifying races through breeding. Social democrats are basically neoplatonists. Its a form of social caste - the society of a neoplatonist looks more like a beehive. Aquinas would be turning over in his grave, to think he was being compared with a Utopian like Plato. Locke might be more helpful if you ever hope to understand Aquinas. You might wish for a world ruled by Aquinas, but the reality is more like Plato or St Augustine. Take Loyola or UnivChicago for instance, they definitely have a Moody stench. Adler should be enthroned in the Lazaronni masonic hotel along with Lysenko and that anti-semitic charlatan Blavatsky. Biggest hucksters of the American people. Are you in the circle or out of the circle?