Book review: Platon et Plotin. Relation, Logos, Intuition, written by Michel Fattal

in The International Journal of the Platonic Tradition

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Platon et Plotin. Relation, Logos, Intuition, Paris: L’Harmattan, 2013, Pp. 81, € 12 (pb.), isbn: 978-2-343-00404-4.

In this volume Michel Fattal (hereafter mf) combines two studies which were initially presented as contributions to conferences in Italy. Both focus on the concept of logos, which has been the lynchpin of his research for the last thirty years. The first study (« Le Banquet de Platon: une philosophie de la relation? », pp. 13-41) focuses on the role of logos in the philosophy of relations developed in that dialogue while the second (« Les Ennéades de Plotin: le logos discursif et la pensée intuitive (noêsis) de l’homme », pp. 43-81) studies logos in relation to noêsis in Plotinus.

In the first study the author argues that although Plato’s ontological, cosmological and anthropological dualism (sensible-intelligible world; body-soul) does give rise to the well-known problems of separation mentioned by Aristotle, Plato had addressed them fairly early on in his writing life. He had done so in the Symposium by introducing a whole philosophy of relations, which provides links between the sensible world and the Forms, as well as among the Forms themselves. So doing, he had opened up the possibility of accounting for the unity and cohesion of all that is.

mf identifies the various notions used by Plato to express the relations of participation, representation, imitation (methexis, koinōnia, eikōn, mimēsis). He highlights the presence of relations at all levels in the Symposium; in the literary form, a “sum-posion” being an environment in which wine and speeches are shared; in the pedagogical relation that unites master and disciples; in the re-presentation of philosophy and the philosopher; in the interplay of knowledge and ignorance; and in the speech of Diotima on Erōs as a daemon, intermediary between gods and men, body and soul, sensible and intelligible world, mind and Forms, knowledge and ignorance, dynamic synthesizer of all the elements of a complex universe. In the initiation to the mysteries of Erōs bodies are not taken to be opposed to souls, science and the Forms, but serve as a foundation for the progressive ascent of the soul to the Form of Beauty.

For mf the cosmological and anthropological monism of the Symposium, coming as it does after the philosophy of separation of the Phaedo, enables Plato to maintain the unity of his system and to avoid the dualism he would later be accused of.

The analysis is clear, well-structured and solidly documented. One may wonder, however, whether the communication between sensible and intelligible world, body and soul, beautiful objects and the Form of Beauty, based on a certain kind of participation or imitation, is identical to the unity of all parts of the universe or indeed of a human being. One could argue that the ontological difference between the parts remains, even though they interact through the Platonic concept of logos.

In the second study, mf explores a basic difficulty of the philosophy of the Enneads, namely the relation of logos to the One-Good, the highest principle lying beyond Being or Intellect and any form of language. To address the question mf concentrates on the relation between the discursive logos, which is based on a division between subject and object of thought, and Intellect (Nous), which apprehends the Forms intuitively and directly.

mf meticulously expounds Plotinus’ theories on this issue. He notes first the superiority of the “internal discourse” of human reflection over the “external discourse”, which verbally articulates the internal dialogue of the soul with itself. The silent discourse of the soul, claims mf, imitates a thought that belongs to another reality, itself characterized by unity. While the human intellect constantly functions as a dianoia, it can also, at privileged moments, as a Nous, imitate the divine Intellect. In that latter capacity it apprehends the Forms, either indirectly, through the images the Intellect generates in the soul or directly, by a privileged identification with the Intellect and the Forms within it, at which point the intuitive thought bridges the gap between subject and object of knowledge and brings unity between them. Such unity is also the result of a purification of the soul from all material attachments, a purification that enables it to ascend to the sphere of intelligible truth.

Man, while linked to the material world through his body, can nonetheless become conscious of his intuitive thought and express it, but only through the discursive logos of his dianoia, on which dialectics, the philosopher’s tool per excellence, is founded. Therefore, so mf concludes, even if the One is ineffable, the discursive logos of the soul’s intellect tries to express what the divine Intellect (Nous) grasps intuitively. This relation, which allows our access to dialectics and the self-consciousness it produces, accounts for the value of the discursive logos. Plotinus, mf argues, develops in a more hierarchical structure a position that is common to Plato and Aristotle concerning the central importance of the logos for both the expression of intelligible truths and the consciousness of our true self.

Although the author clarifies some complex issues in Plotinus, some questions remain open: when the human soul is “as if filled” by the Intellect (Nous), can we say that it is identical with it and the Forms it contains? Or are we still relying on a mere analogy in trying to express the contemplation of the Forms by our intellect?

To conclude: mf’s contribution to the interpretation of difficult aspects of the interrelation of logos, Intellect, and Forms in Plato and Plotinus is of great value and fully deserves the Charles Lyon-Caen Prize which the French Academy of Moral and Political Sciences awarded it in November 2014.

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Book review: Platon et Plotin. Relation, Logos, Intuition, written by Michel Fattal

in The International Journal of the Platonic Tradition

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