Plotin Traité 12 II 4. Les Éditions du Cerf, Paris, 2014, Euros 30.
The present translation and commentary of Plotinus’ treatise ii 4 is the seventeenth volume1 in the series first established under the direction of Pierre Hadot and currently directed by Jean-François Balaudé, Dominic J. O’Meara and Gwenaëlle Aubry. The collection follows a tendency established in the last decades in Plotinian scholarship to devote a whole volume to a single Plotinian treatise by an author specialized in the topics addressed in that work. As the directors of the collection point out,2 this tendency is the result of progress and growth achieved in the study of Plotinus’ thought in the past five decades. However, considering that the series began almost three decades ago, it would be desirable, I believe, to speed up the publication rate. If seventeen volumes are to be published every three decades, the collection will end spanning almost a century.
The book opens with the acknowledgements of the translator, followed by the useful Table de correspondance, where the systematic and chronological orders of Plotinus’ treatises are addressed. The next pages are dedicated to the Avant-Propos, written by the directors of the collection, where they specify that the Greek text translated, not included in the volume, corresponds to the Editio Minor published by P. Henry and H. R. Schwyzer (Clarendon Press, 1964).
Perdikouri’s own contribution consists in an introduction (pp. 19-37), a translation (pp. 51-80) and a commentary (pp. 83-204). Several useful indices, to which I shall refer below, follow the bibliography. In the Introduction, divided into two sections—Structure and Thèmes du traité—Perdikouri (hereafter ep) examines, firstly, the place of the treatise in the Enneads as a whole and the methodological reasons that could have incited Plotinus to arrange the treatise in the way he did. Secondly, she analyses the notions of intelligible matter and sensible matter. The Introduction, in general, is a well-balanced approach to the treatise and does not delve into technical disquisitions or a detailed scrutiny of any problem raised in the treatise. A detailed scholarly analysis of the text is carried out in the commentary, which is more than four times longer than the translation. In this first section, the treatise is presented as atypical, not only due to its technical character but also to its metaphysical content. ep stresses that determining the nature of matter constitutes a crucial step in the development of Plotinus’ metaphysics since the monism of the system depends on it. She also defends the innovative nature of Plotinus’ conception of matter, which differs not only from Aristotle’s hýlē, but also from Plato’s hypodokhē, while pointing out that the treatment Plotinus gives to the issue in this early work is still preliminary and essentially negative. In her presentation of the themes of the treatise, ep alludes to the relative absence of the phrase “intelligible matter” in the rest of the corpus, and raises pertinent questions about such relative absence, asking whether the disappearance of the term entails that the notion itself has also disappeared. The issue is re-addressed in the commentary, where ep discusses the relation of the notions of relative matter and matter itself (matière en soi) to intelligible and sensible matter respectively.
The second part of the study opens with a list of the families of manuscripts, followed by an account of the editions and translations of the treatise and a list of other instruments for the study of Plotinus’ and Ancient Greek thought and language. In eleven instances, ep departs from the text provided in Henry-Schwyzer’s Maior (1951) and Minor (1964) editions.3 A Plan du Traité follows, in which the structure of the treatise is outlined. The translation renders in transparent French the frequently opaque Greek of Plotinus. As a non-native French reader, I find the prose fluid, diaphanous and close to the text, avoiding the baroque elegance of MacKenna’s renderings, for example.
The body of the translation contains titles and subtitles introduced with the purpose of orienting the reader, as required by the directors of the collection,4 who aim at making the volumes accessible to different levels of readership. Such reader-friendly, over-guided rendering of Plotinus’ text and of the different stages in his argumentation, contrasts with the technical character of the comprehensive exegetical and historiographical commentary that follows the translation. The accompanying footnotes in this section, on the other hand, are a concise complement to the text. Several notes refer to other passages in the same treatise or elsewhere in the Enneads, where Plotinus addresses similar ideas. Notes are also provided to link Plotinus’ text to passages in other ancient authors, the most frequently cited being Plato’s Timaeus, Aristotle’s De generatione et corruptione, Physics, Metaphysics or De Anima, and fragments of the Stoics and the Presocratics. Lastly, several comments discuss the use of Greek particles or expressions and their meanings in the contexts in which they appear.
In my view, ep’s most accomplished and personal contribution is found in the third part, which constitutes more than half of the book. The first section of the Commentary, dedicated to intelligible matter, attracted my attention much more than the second one. In her elucidation of the initial doxographic passage of the treatise, ep outlines the principal features of the Stoic conception of matter and provides a lucid discussion of the main points of Plotinus’ disagreement with it. She also identifies the second tradition alluded to in the text, which is that of philosophers who conceive matter as incorporeal, with both Platonists and Aristotelians, but considers, following Atkinson, that the background theory involved here is not the Platonic theory of the One and the Dyad, but the Peripatetic theory of the material intellect. In her clarification of the five objections that Plotinus presents to his own thesis that intelligible matter exists, ep deals with each one individually, providing, both in the footnotes and in the body of the text, complementary passages of the Enneads in which Plotinus examines these issues further.
ep’s exposition of the fifth objection—if there were form and matter in the intelligible realm, there would be bodies over there as well—and of Plotinus’ answer to it deserves a separate mention since it provides an interesting evidence of the exegetical character of the Commentary. In this section, ep revises important aspects of Plotinus’ conception of Intellect and introduces an excursus in which she addresses the notion of the uni-multiplicity of noûs. Quoting a passage from the beginning of v 9 , 8 she deals with the theory according to which Plotinus conceives Form as a particular intellect and, hence, as an individual. This doctrine, she argues, is a reformulation of the theory of forms that he developed in order to save it from one of Aristotle’s major challenges: if Forms are universals, they are common predicates and lack substantial reality. Interpreting Forms as individuals, concludes ep, allows Plotinus to understand Intellect as a monde (kósmos) constituted by a multiplicity of individuals which requires a substrate, a terrain commun, that stands as the unity underlying the multiplicity of the Forms.
The subsequent discussion of the fourth objection is also relevant since it deals with the notion of otherness5 and its role in the generation of multiplicity from the One. ep underlines the continuity between the abrupt introduction of this new term and the conclusion of the previous chapter, which states the (logical) anteriority of the substrate in relation to the plurality of Forms. Otherness is understood by Plotinus as the principle of matter but should not be assimilated, ep stresses, to the homonymous highest Plotinian kind. With this notion, she adds, Plotinus designates an instance that has as its nature the fact of being itself other and uses a relative expression absolutely. Plotinus says that otherness produces intelligible matter and Forms when it turns back towards the One and is defined and illuminated by its light. In the Commentary we find an explicit assimilation of otherness with the inchoative Intellect. The generation of intelligible matter, nonetheless, implies too many major doctrinal points in Plotinus’ philosophy, ep claims, forcing him to move on in his discussion without being able to expound all of them thoroughly.
Sensible matter, according to our commentator, is the main subject of the treatise with Plotinus devoting to it eleven out of the sixteen chapters. ep’s exposition in this second part is also clear and duly structured according to the movement of Plotinus’ reasoning. Addressing first Plotinus’ arguments in favor of the existence of sensible matter, she then examines the second doxographic passage of the treatise, where Plotinus criticizes the Presocratic theories of matter, before turning consecutively to three different elements of the treatise—the gnoseological problems raised by a matter that lacks any quality, and Plotinus’ criticisms of both Plato’s Timaeus and Aristotle’s theory of matter. In a final treatment of Plotinus’ characterization of matter as infinite, otherness, privation and evil, Perdikouri points to later treatises where these elements of his thought are developed in greater detail. She mentions, specially, the conception of matter as evil (i 8 ) and its incapacity, due to its impassibility, to participate in form and, hence, in the good (iii 6 ).
As mentioned above, the study is complemented by an abridged bibliography and a series of useful indices. The first three indices gather the citations of ancient texts present in the treatise, ep’s citations of Plotinus and other Ancient texts, and of the modern authors mentioned. The last two indices are lists of Greek words used in the treatise and of French words used in the book. All these appendices constitute helpful instruments for the scholar seeking a conceptual analysis of Plotinus’ thought. The volume is closed by the Table des matières.
ep’s contribution to the series is the third French translation of this early Plotinian treatise that has been published over a period of two decades.6 In his review of the volume, Dufour writes that Perdikouri’s level of analysis stands halfway between Narbonne’s and his own regarding accessibility and depth. In my own view, ep’s work is above all an exegetical and philosophical piece. It undertakes a constructive reading of the treatise, not only in the context of the Enneads conceived as a system of thought, but also in the framework of Plotinus’ discussion of his Platonic predecessors and non-Platonic adversaries. Admittedly, such an interpretative endeavor can be more or less appealing, but as long as it is well argued, it is a valuable contribution to scholarship. In my view, ep’s translation and exegesis have considerable merit and constitute a more than illuminating form of taking Les Écrits de Plotin back to print after five years of editorial inaction.
1 In page 6 of the volume there is a list of the treatises already published in the collection but the treatise i 3 translated by Jankélévitch and published in 1998 is missing. This might be the reason why Dufour, in his review of the book (Laval théologique et philosophique, vol. 71, n. 1, 2015, pp. 179), asserts that it is the sixteenth title. The list also presents an error regarding treatise 3 (2006) since it says iii 3 when it should say iii 1.
2 Page 13.
3 Nine of the eleven different readings, nonetheless, are also provided by Henry and Schwytzer in their Addenda ad textum (Clarendon Press, 1982) or in the Corrigenda ad Plotini textum of 1987 by Schwyzer. In the other two cases Perdikouri follows Kalligas (1997) and R. G. Bury “Notes on Plotinus, Enn. I-III”, in The Classical Quarterly, Vol. 38, No. 1/2 pp. 41. This last work seems to be missing in the bibliography.
4 Page 13.
5 Perdikouri uses capital letters for “otherness” writing “Altérité” both in the translation and in the Commentary.
6 Narbonne 1993; Dufour 2003; Perdikouri 2014.
Narbonne 1993; Dufour 2003; Perdikouri 2014.