Aspects of biology in Plotinus

Christoph Horn

in Neoplatonism and the Philosophy of Nature

Published in print April 2012 | ISBN: 9780199693719
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191739019 | DOI:
Aspects of biology in Plotinus

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Even if questions of biology might not belong to the core topics of the Enneads, Plotinus has at least some interesting things to say on life and living organisms. This chapter discusses how he localizes different psychic functions in the organic body and integrates the concept of life into his general metaphysics. Following his metaphysical theory of a gradual derivation, he considers life as a phenomenon existing in highly diversified degrees in the cosmos. With regard to living entities, Plotinus particularly points out three attributes: self-preservation, self-organization, and self-motion. The top-down derivation of life that he highlights might give us the impression that he conceives of sensible biological phenomena as participating in life in a Platonist sense. It is argued in this chapter, however, that the Plotinian formula that life, for sensible entities, means to possess ‘something added’ does not imply the logic of participation. Instead, he makes use of the Aristotelian concept of energeia to spell out a Platonist understanding of biology while simultaneously defending a form of psycho-physical dualism against hylomorphism.

Keywords: biology; life; psycho-physic dualism; hylomorphism; self-motion; logoi; participation; energeia

Chapter.  8583 words. 

Subjects: Ancient Philosophy

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