The Parmenides of Plato and the Origin of the Neoplatonic 'One'

Classical Quarterly 22 (3-4):129- (1928)
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Abstract

The last phase of Greek philosophy has until recently been less intelligently studied than any other, and in our understanding of its development there are still lamentable lacunae. Three errors in particular have in the past prevented a proper appreciation of Plotinus' place in the history of philosophy. The first was the failure to distinguish Neoplatonism from Platonism: this vitiates the work of many early exponents from Ficinus down to Kirchner. The second was the belief that the Neoplatonists, being ‘mystics,’ were necessarily incomprehensible to the plain man or even to the plain philosopher. To have encouraged the persistence of this superstition in the nineteenth century is the least pardonable of Creuzer's many sins. The third was the chronological confusion involved in the ascription to Saint Paul's contemporary of the works of the pretended Dionysius Areopagita, which contain a fully-developed Neoplatonic theology. Though the fraud had been exposed by Scaliger, these writings continued down to the beginning of the nineteenth century to be used as evidence that the ‘Nsoplatonic trinity’ was an inferior imitation of the Christian one. When this false trail was at length abandoned the fashion for orientalizing explanations persisted in another guise: to the earliest historians of Neoplatonism, Simon and Vacherot, the school of Plotinus was ‘the school of Alexandria,’ and its inspiration was mainly Egyptian. Vacherot says of Neoplatonism that it is ‘essentially and radically oriental, having nothing of Greek thought but its language and procedure.’ Few would be found to-day to subscribe to so sweeping a pronouncement; but the existence of an important oriental element in Plotinus' thought is still affirmed by many French and German writers

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