In Job's Balances \ III \ Vehement Words


     I think that it will now no longer seem so remarkable to us that Plotinus wrote nothing down before his fiftieth year and that when he had once begun to write he did not read through what he had written. I think, too, that we shall now understand why Porphyry, Plotinus's pupil and friend, who was so intimate with him, could and would see nothing extraordinary in these peculiarities of his master. The mysteries of philosophy are revealed only to the "initiated". And the chief, the least comprehensible mystery obviously lies precisely in the fact that the ultimate, and perhaps also the penultimate, truth is not attained by us as the result of methodical thinking, but comes unexpectedly from without, like a sudden (eksaiphnÍs) illumination.

     If this is so, if philosophic truth is not attained through meditation, then it can in no way be "learned". It can also not be tested in any way; and more: we have no assurance that this truth, like the truths which can be attained by meditation, is always the same for all, or even always for the same man. It may be that Plotinus when he "touched" or "participated in" his ultimate truth saw now one thing, now another. It is true that he says nothing of this; on the contrary, he expresses himself in such a way that one might believe that things were quite different, that instability was a mark of the phenomena of the empiric world, while in the super-empiric and only real world everything was always consistent and changes impossible and unimaginable. But if this were so, why are all words and conceptions which we have inapplicable to the truly real world? Since Socrates our conceptions have been shaped as though they were meant to express the immutable, and not the mutable. Even Parmenides esteemed in knowing (epistÍmÍ) the possibility of seeing behind the mutable phenomena the immutable essence; this was also the view taught by Plato. Plotinus, too, who in this respect followed the tradition of Parmenides and Plato, held all that is mutable for not being, and being for immutable. The very fact that he calls the final and deepest principle "the One" seems to suggest that in his eyes mutability was something evil, a lack of existence. How can one maintain that when he united himself with his "One" he was experiencing different things at different times? Would not this be to distort his "system"?

     It is undeniable that everything that I am saying here fits but ill into Plotinus's system; but it may not be our task at all to find a system in Plotinus. A system is epistÍmÍ and epistÍmÍ is logos. But we know that Plotinus's last endeavour was precisely to free himself from the power of the logos. This is perhaps the most remarkable characteristic of his writings; yet, contrary to Zeller's view, we have to see in this endeavour no break with ancient philosophy, but rather an all-embracing and bold expression of the tasks which the philosophy of the Greeks had set itself, but in consequence of the eternal law of fate or of history had not carried out. Parmenides, Socrates, and Plato strove no more than Plotinus for epistÍmÍ or logos; Plato himself, who esteemed the logos so highly, was a natural misologist; for what is logos, what is epistÍmÍ, what is the scientific philosophy which Zeller accuses Plotinus of betraying?

     Let us recall again what we said above about theological and philosophical truth. Some believe that the Middle Ages in drawing this distinction were secretly endeavouring to turn aside from theological truth in order to open the path to "free inquiry". No doubt some philosophers of the Middle Ages did make attempts to exploit the doctrine of twofold truth in this way; essentially, however, it is something else. One may certainly feel the limitations imposed upon one by membership of a certain profession as a constraint; but this does not mean that liberation from theological truth would lead men to freedom of inquiry. I believe that the doctrine of the two truths sprang from the dream of quite a different freedom, that freedom which Plotinus proclaims.

     Theology constrains man by imposing upon him unimpeachable dogmas. But does not science constrain man? Will it ever renounce its dogmas (postulates)? Will it ever agree to free man from the "law" of contradiction? Will it ever admit that the part is equal to the whole? Will it ever break away from the principle that ex nihilo nihil fit? Or that one can make undone a thing once done? The "standard theologian" who declared with such conviction that there could be no contradiction between the divine and the human understanding condemned man to twofold slavery; he became at the same time subject to the dogmas of Catholicism and to the "truths" of Aristotle. And those who today, starting from the thought of the unity of philosophy and science, wish to reconcile them with one another, are doing exactly what Thomas Aquinas did; they are not serving the liberation of humanity, but its enslavement. Our task seems to be not to reconcile science and philosophy but to sunder them. The deeper and more bitter the enmity between philosophy and science, the more humanity will win by it. I think that if Socrates were to come back to life today he would see that he must turn himself again into a gadfly, and this time he would turn the whole force of his irony upon those who wish to reconcile philosophy and science. I think, too, that in view of the endeavours predominant in our times his unrest would be far more unremitting still than in his first life. He would be forced to remember the doctrine of twofold truth, but not in order to give "freedom" to scientific researches, but rather to free himself from scientific postulates. His daemon, to whom power was given to command without in any way justifying his commands, would have demanded from him first and foremost open warfare against scientific philosophy.

Orphus system

   home    intro    texts    links    biblio ToC