La puissance de l’intelligible: la theorie plotinienne des Formes au miroir de l’heritage medioplatonicien. Ancient and medieval philosophy. Series 1, 51. Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2014. Pp. vii, 264. isbn 9789462700024. €82.50.
Plotinus’ reestablishment of the Forms within Intellect as causal agents is the stated main concern of Alexandra Michalewski in this book, which originated as a 2008 doctoral thesis written under the supervision of Luc Brisson. She has organized her study however not as a true monograph concentrated on presenting from the outset how Plotinus altered the function of the Forms and contrasting his conception, point by point, with that of earlier Platonists. Rather her approach to explicating his theory of the Forms via the “miroir” of her title is rather to offer a detailed survey of their philosophical treatment across the period of Middle Platonism, which accounts for almost half her text, and then to devote an equal space to Plotinus himself, followed by a brief conclusion summarizing the main differences between Plotinus and the Middle Platonists.
At the outset, in her Introduction, Michalewski sets the problem that she intends mainly to address, of how Plotinus defines the Forms as not only interior to Intellect but identical with it:
Contrairement à la vision qui inscrit la théorie plotinienne de l’intelligible dans le prolongement des interprétations médioplatoniciennes qui incluaient les Formes dans l’Intellect, je pense que Plotin propose une lecture des rapports de l’Intellect à l’intelligible qui se situe en rupture par rapport aux platoniciens des siècles précédents. La lecture médioplatonicienne de l’inclusion des Formes dans l’intellect divin . . . se situe dans le cadre d’une cosmologie artificialiste: même intérieures à l’esprit du demiurge, les Formes restent de simples paradigmes dont la causalité ne peut s’exercer sans l’intervention de la cause fabricatrice. Mon propos est ici de montrer que le dépassement de l’ontologie médioplatonicienne visé par Plotin s’accompagne d’un dépassement de l’artificialisme médioplatonicien par lequel les Formes acquièrent une veritable puissance causale, en devant des intellects, des réalités vivantes et en acte. (p. 1)
Plotinus according to Michalewski is able to endow the Forms with this puissance causale within Intellect by adapting the “identification aristotélicienne de l’ousia et d’energeia”, showing how they act as causes of individual sensibles, while still being the thoughts of a divine and unmoving intellect, and at the same time like to that conceived of by Aristotle, which merely by thinking the Forms passes on to them from its implicit perfection ousia and causal energeia. Thus for Plotinus, Intellect has no need of creative artifice nor recourse to external paradigm. For it holds within itself the Forms and ultimately, from the innate power of the One, imparts to them their own causal power to project in turn, both paradigmatically and ontologically, into the realm of the sensible—organically, as it were, and not by any artisanal craft.
Michalewski divides her investigation of Middle Platonism into three sections, titled “Qu’est-ce que le médioplatonisme?”, “Causalité du dieu et des Formes”, and “les Formes, pensées de dieu”, of which the first gives an overview of the period addressing especially the history of the interpretation of the Timaeus, starting with the Stoic immanentist reaction and then proceeding to cover in detail the issues concerning Antiochus’ position regarding the Forms. She continues with a brief discussion of Eudorus as the first Platonist to make full use of Aristotle, especially “pour promouvoir la transcendence du dieu platonicien” (p. 31), starting the engagement with the Stagirite which will so typify the rest of Platonism in Antiquity, as well as the break with the materialism of Antiochus and the Stoics. The section concludes with remarks on the shift to the predominant practice of philosophy as commentary, and how the exegesis especially of the Timaeus will determine in large part the place and function of the Forms.
In the last two sections of the first part of her study, Michalewski gives her very detailed exposition of the development of the interpretation of the Forms themselves, especially how some Platonists came to conceive them as the thoughts of god, devoting many pages to focusing on each of Seneca, Philo of Alexandria, Apuleius, Plutarch, Alcinous, Atticus, Longinus, and Numenius. She first briefly touches on the well-known main concerns of the period, such as the dominance of the Dreiprinzipienlehre, within which god as artisan contemplates the Forms in order to infuse matter with creational order, and how within that framework the Forms function as paradigms, but in a causal role secondary to that of the Demiurge. Her thorough scholarship which is demonstrated throughout the book is exemplified here in her attention to the problem of the sources of Seneca’s Letter 58 and 65, and consistently, where necessary, she is meticulous about such issues, particularly when her argument turns on texts of which a consensus understanding has not been reached. Another such instance is her treatment of the troublesome passage in Apuleius De Plat., 1, 5, in which she evaluates the scholarly attempts to render it properly (pp. 63-65). Differences among Middle Platonists receive her analytical attention as well, such as the question of the absence in Plutarch of a definition of the Forms as the thoughts of god. Alcinous receives a larger share of attention, as Michalewski examines the issue of how Alcinous conceives of the genesis of the world not in time, and, most significantly for her main subject, how he presents a primal god thinking himself, but also asserts a separate Demiurgic intellect in whom is awakened the Forms, which are thought by the primal god. She ends the first part with summary remarks that on the one hand the Middle Platonists had responded to the Stoic concept of a divine intellect working within nature as they revitalized the Forms and declared their non-physical nature by making them the thoughts of god, but that otherwise they still left them at an inferior level of causality: “. . . si le monde est le produit d’une fabrication divine, la cause la plus importante est la cause fabricatrice et non la cause paradigmatique, qui lui et nécessairement subordonée” (pp. 95-96). It will be up to Plotinus to confer upon them “une réelle puissance causale” and how he does so is the subject of the second part of her study.
Michalewski’s analysis of Plotinus falls into three sections, “De l’Un à l’Intellect”, “L’Intellect et la monde intelligible”, and “Le Démiurge”. In the first one, she lays out her main contention, which will be closely argued in the remaining sections. Plotinus gives a full sense to the concept of Form as energeia which was only formulated in the Didaskalikos (Did., x, 164, 30), and at the same time adapts for his purpose the Aristotelian concept of self-knowing, inactive god identical to his own thoughts by making the Forms now utterly internal and identical to Intellect. Thus the Forms as intelligibles have conferred on them an energeia inherited by Intellect from the plenitude of the One itself: “L’identification aristotélicienne de l’ousia et de l’energeia . . . ne prend sens, selon Plotin, qu’au service de la théorie des Formes. Par cette nouvelle definition des Formes comme actes, comme réalités vivantes et intelligentes, Plotin sort des cadres de l’artificialisme et mène à son terme l’entreprise de dépassement du stoïcisme que le médioplatisme avait commencé” (p. 99). Central to her thesis is the concept of double energeia or activity, first brought in print to scholarly attention by Christian Rutten in article in the Revue Philosophique de la France et de l’Étranger in 1956 and explored exhaustively by Eyjólfur Kjalar Emilsson in 2007 in his book Plotinus on Intellect, both of which are cited by her. The Demiurgic Intellect, endowed by the One with being, then merely by being itself and by being in a state of self-reflection on the Forms as contents of its own thought, acts as the paradigmatic cause to the lower hypostasis of Soul. The Forms simultaneously, by virtue of double energeia, fulfill the role of causal entity to establish their effect in the sensible realm. So they act much as in the metaphor that Plotinus is fond of applying in this context, of how fire burns by itself, but causes there to be heat in other entities.
In her next section, “L’Intellect et le monde intelligible”, Michalewski expands on this, her chief argument, by examining a number of the relevant Enneads themselves, including vi.6, iv.3, v.3, v.7, v.9, vi.7, and i.1. Included is an extended analysis of the problem of Forms of individuals in Plotinus, but as it relates to her main subject, taking into account the action of the Plotinian logoi, leading up to an exacting presentation of Plotinus’ conception in vi.7 of how the Demiurge of Intellect effects each human in sensible reality, and how the Forms take their role in that process. She ends this section by finalizing her presentation of the Forms, working again from vi.7 and vi.8 and their focus on the causality of the Forms, and she discusses the concept of autarchia which they possess within Intellect and which Plotinus argues for them in v.3.
“Le demiurge”, the final section, examines the troublesome problem of exactly where to locate the Demiurge within Plotinus’ hierarchy. Michalewski rehearses the major scholarship, relying especially on Deuse and Opsomer, discussing in detail iii.9 and iv.4, and comes down on the side of placing the Demiurge within Intellect, by again adducing the principle of double energeia: “La dualité du principe du producteur [sc. le demiurge] est l’expression de la théorie des deux actes: l’acte intérieur de l’Intellect est la contemplation des Formes et l’acte extérieur est la production de l’âme” (p. 196). In concluding the second part of her study, she also devotes pages to Plotinus’ criticism of the Gnostics’ conception of Demiurgy, and the function of the logoi within Plotinus’ framework.
Michalewski throughout presents her arguments clearly, and they are always strictly germane to the detail issue being considered. Her bibliography is quite large, though not all works included are cited directly in the text, and at times she does includes more citation and elaboration of the secondary sources on certain points which are not crucial to her current argument than is needed, even if often to offer a comprehensive, current view of the subject at hand. The main reservation this reviewer would voice is how she chooses to organize her study. If the analysis of Plotinus’ conception of the Forms is the main goal, then forestalling that task in her text until the second half of the book is perhaps not the most effective approach. Because she chooses to survey the Middle Platonists first, much of the comparison with Plotinus remains implicit to the reader to draw out, since within her discussion of Plotinus in the second half she presents his philosophy mostly without direct reference back to Middle Platonists, though she does offer some specific comparisons, and summarizes her main points addressed in both halves of her study in the conclusion. It is unfortunate then that she has not provided a subject index, which would aid the reader in comparing different specific issues between Plotinus and his predecessors, although there is an Index Locorum. The depth of scholarship then bestowed on the first part, which is of course admirable in a survey, furthermore only adds to the deferment of the presentation of her chief, stated subject.
But such a survey of the development of the Forms across the period including that of Plotinus is a needed work, and the high quality of her scholarship makes La puissance de l’intelligible nevertheless definitely a valuable resource. The reader interested only in how Plotinus conceives of the Forms and the Demiurge can with profit focus on the second part of the text, and those seeking a thorough and current historical study of the Forms from Antiochus to Plotinus will also find Michalewski’s book very useful and rewarding.