Searching for the 'Why': Plotinus on Being and the One beyond Being

In Sean D. Kirkland & Eric Sanday (eds.), A Companion to Ancient Philosophy. Evanston, IL, USA: Northwestern University Press. pp. 275-286 (2018)
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There is a tendency among contemporary scholars of ancient Greek philosophy to think that Plotinus’ philosophical orientation is significantly different from that of Plato. One such difference is that Plotinus seems to be more interested in systematically presenting and articulating a specific set of philosophical doctrines than Plato was. After all, Plotinus lived and wrote in a context in which there were a number of highly developed philosophical schools—the Stoics, Peripatetics, Gnostics, and Epicureans, just to name a few—and is interested in showing where his own views stand in relation to these. Yet despite these and other differences between the projects of Plato and of Plotinus, in this paper I want to focus on a point of continuity and agreement between the two: namely on their philosophical orientation toward the ‘why’ (dioti) of things. Plotinus’ philosophical orientation, like that of Plato before him, is driven by a search for the ‘why’ of things and a confidence that the goal of every why-inquiry is attainable. I argue that Plotinus understands this search for the ‘why’ to entail that for every object or state of affairs, there must be some principle that explains why that object or state of affairs is the way it is or has the character it does. In particular, I focus on how Plotinus’ confidence that the object of this sort of why-inquiry is attainable leads him to claim that the first principle—the One or Good—is beyond being.



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Michael Wiitala
Cleveland State University

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