We will have our first meeting tomorrow on Thursday as we discuss Plotinus’ philosophy on the immortality of the soul.
Reading Plotinus is not an easy task and his philosophy takes some taking used to, but you’ll begin to see traces of him as we go through the Confessions and the topic of the immortality of the soul will come up again as we go through Augustine’s work.
I know that I normally have participants write a brief essay on the reading material, but for the first meeting we’ll take it easy as we ease back into the swing of things. Nevertheless, I’ve come up with some questions to think over about the reading that we can discuss to varying degrees tomorrow.
Please feel free to write a comment or something if you want by all means.
(The page numbers in parentheses correspond to the handout I sent to the group.)
- In Pascal’s words, the God of the Hebrews was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, not the God of the philosophers. Nevertheless, the “Greek” concept of God as remote, impassible, unknowable, and so on did have a significant effect on the development of both Hebrew and Christian thought. Why do you think this was so? Do you think it had a good or bad effect? Similarly, the “Greek” idea of the innate evilness of matter and of the human body infiltrated Christian thinking, contrary to the teaching of the New Testament. Can you think why this happened? Are there traces of this concept still around? If so, what do we do with them?
- What does Plotinus mean by the ‘soul’? Do plants and animals have souls according to Plotinus? Why or why not? Why does he believe that the ‘true’ part of a person is the soul? Do you agree with his conclusion? Why or why not?
- What is Plotinus’ main argument for the body not being immortal? What is the body made up of according to Plotinus (as well as most of Greek thought)?
- Do you agree with Plotinus that life (in general) has a soul, or that matter needs something external to bring about life? (Think of Genesis 2:7 – “Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”) Do you believe that there is a metaphysical/spiritual basis for life to happen? Why or why not?
- In Chapter 7, last paragraph (p.9), what does Plotinus believe that only the soul should focus on? Why only the soul?
- In Chapter 10 (pp. 15 – 16), how does he reason that the soul is of a divine and eternal nature? What does a ‘pure’ or ‘untainted’ soul look like? How are wisdom and virtue only able to be attained by the soul? How does a person see his or her own immortality in the Good?
- In Chapter 13 (18) (p.17), according to Plotinus, how does the soul enter into the body? How does this align or conflict with your own general (or Christian) understanding of the soul?
As you can tell, the topic of the soul is a huge and basically foundational subject in all of philosophy. We could spend several years (literally) just on Plotinus and Neoplatonism, but this is just to give a brief glimpse into what Augustine read and studied that was to have a lasting influence upon his life. It is an important aspect of his thinking that is impossible to ignore.
 Question from Peter Hicks, The Journey So Far: Philosophy Through the Ages, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. 2003), 79.