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Plotinus or the Simplicity of Vision Paperback – 28 Apr 1998

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Product details

  • Paperback: 152 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press; New edition edition (28 April 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226311945
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226311944
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.5 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 198,609 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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An academic, or, indeed, a spiritual seeker, might not consider it an exaggeration to say that upon reflection, anything worth saying about the development of the Mind, has been said by Plotinus (205-270CE), and that the work of Plotinus is as inspiring as any Asian philosophical tradition, purporting to explain the same subject. Sometimes, the clarity with which Plotinus describes his experience of the 'inner' mind, is reminiscent of the style of crisp and concise analysis found in early Buddhist Sutras.

This is spiritual development, free of the dogma of religious garb, and confusing symbolism. But it is 'pure' development, as spirituality should be. Plotinus lived at a time when the development of the Mind was viewed as the highest endeavour available to a human being. What is more, academia, to be legitimate, had to evolve into a definite state of superior insight. Plotinus developed the Mind beyond 'concept'.

For him, 'pure' intellect was that which lay beyond thought, but which could be acquired through thought, (at least in-part). He advocated the disentanglement of awareness from the 'senses', and the 'emotions', and turn it toward the 'theos', or the highest available cognition realisable by the seeking philosopher. Theos, prior to the full development of Christian theology, did not refer to 'God' within the Greek tradition of philosophy. It rather referred to the highest attainable conscious state, known to humanity, through introspective observation. As such, it is not a philosophical work that merely considers the 'nature' of 'thought', but rather shows how the Mind as subject, can be thoroughly examined and understood, and through such insight, penetrated to its core.
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Format: Paperback
The French philosopher Pierre Hadot (b. 1922)is known for his studies of ancient philosophy and for his teaching that philosophy is not a mere academic study. Instead, for Hadot, philosophy is a spiritual training and a way to understand one's life in the company of a teacher and like-minded individuals. Hadot's mastery of ancient philosophy and his understanding of the philosophic endeavor pervade this short outstanding introduction, written in 1963, to the life and thought of Plotinus (205 -- 270 A.D.), the most significant exponent of the philosophy known as neoplatonism.

Hadot's book on Plotinus is subtitled "The Simplicity of Vision." A good way of approaching it is to understand what Hadot means by "simplicity." Neither Plotinus nor Hadot make easy or "simple" reading. "Simplicity" here is contrasted with "multiplicity" or with what Plotinus calls "the composite." The composite is the world of everydayness, with its collage of change, a multitude of different things, and human emotions which pull in different directions and tend at each moment to tear the individual and groups of people apart. Most of the time, Plotinus thinks, we live in this composite world. We fall into the mistake of believing that it is all there is. But there is more to reality, and it lies within. By changing the way we look at things and ingrained habits and passions, we can try to redirect our attention to the purely simple -- without parts or multiplicity -- which brings goodness, beauty and stability to life.

It is Hadot's merit to show the depths of Plotinus, to explain the appeal of his vision, and to save it from misunderstanding and instant rejection in a scientific, materialistic culture. Hadot stresses the immanent character of Plotinus's vision of simplicity.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x99f055a0) out of 5 stars 12 reviews
90 of 95 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x999ecfe4) out of 5 stars A remarkable introduction to Plotinus 10 Nov. 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
`Plotinus or the simplicity of vision', like other books written by Pierre Hadot, seeks to go back to a conception of philosophy in which philosopher and philosophical experience are inextricably linked, and it implicitly holds that such a conception is not only desirable but possible. It is less a catalogue of plotinian doctrines than a `psycho-portrait' of Plotinus, the witness of a way of life. Hadot emphasizes the process of the plotinian philosophical experience, his work becoming the mirror of the text it analyses: the initial sections thus deal with the preparatory, purificatory steps, which eventually lead to a discussion of the One, source of all things, and possible fusion with it. In some of the later chapters, Hadot considers Porphyry's `Life of Plotinus' and uses it to counter some of the questionable assertions that have been made about Plotinus over the years (often under the authority of that same work); he then takes a closer look at Plotinus' late treatises, whose topics generally revolve around death, the origin of evil, happiness and Providence. Hadot's approach is both personal and self-effacing: the commentary of a spiritual work becomes a spiritual work itself, as the commentator takes part in the experience related by the author he writes about. Those who read this book - which is useful either before, during or after our reading of the Enneads - will, too.
52 of 54 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x99cc3468) out of 5 stars Spiritual Biography/ Spiritual Philosophy 11 Jan. 2007
By OAKSHAMAN - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book is a joy to read. It is a joy because the author did not primarily write it for scholars; he wrote it for the layman. He wrote a spiritual biography that explains Plotinus and his teachings, and not a deconstructionist hatchet job to profane them. Yes, it is a slim volume and an introduction, but if it is sufficient to get the idea of simplicity of vision across, of stripping away all of the dross to once again attain union with the One, then it is more than enough. After all, true philosophy is simplicity, and not the complicated, pretentious, artificial construction of "learned" discourse that passes under that name in these days.

Those who think that Plotinus merely regurgitated the concepts of Plato couldn't be more mistaken. Plotinus achieved the mystic union that enabled him to verify Plato's teachings by direct experience. In the same way, later mystics validated Plotinus' teachings by direct experience. That isn't regurgitation- it is a form validation and verification based on experience. Yes, there is a chain uniting all true mystics and mystical philosophers, but it is not a cause and effect chain in the earthly world of matter and history- it is a chain existing at the higher level of pure Intellect, where we all are united whether we realize it or not.

Our self extends from God down to the level of matter. Most of us are not conscious of it. However, our point of attention or perspective can be shifted to a higher level. Our soul is in an intermediate position between the lower world (matter), and the higher worlds of Spirit and the One. When we descend from the All before birth we add something to this All. We do not gain by this addition, but are lessened by it. This addition is what constitutes our little, rational self. However, we can forget this little self and at least briefly re-unite with Spirit. A few may even briefly reach as high as the One while still rooted in this realm of time.

The secret lies in contemplation. Through spiritual practice we calm and purify the consciousness to be ready for the intervention of the Spirit. For we do not control this outcome no matter how long and hard we may work for it. Plotinus held that it ultimately depended upon...Grace. We must strive to become a living temple- but it is up to the divine presence whether or not it chooses to enter in.

There is a remarkable underlying consistency to all the teachings attributed to Plotinus. Even his last words are a holographic fragment containing the whole: "I am trying to make what is most divine in me rise back up to what is divine in the universe."
36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x99cc348c) out of 5 stars "Then there is no longer an outside and an inside: only one single light...." 10 Dec. 2007
By K. M. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Pierre Hadot wrote PLOTINUS OR THE SIMPLICITY OF VISION at a time (1963) when far fewer supplementary Plotinian texts existed. This third edition paperback, translated from the French, has been available since 1993 essentially unchanged from the earliest version. Hadot's scholarship regarding both the life and philosophy of Plotinus has passed the test of time.

This short, but not superficial, overview examines Plotinus' teachings on the Self, Presence, Love, Virtues, Gentleness, and Solitude.

It also provides a spiritual biography of the third-century Roman and seeks to dispel certain misconceptions that reading THE LIFE OF PLOTINUS, by the master's student, Porphyry, can and have biased the minds of many pre-Hadot readers. Precious little is known about Plotinus' life, but Hadot takes care to place what is in the context of the norms of philosopher's era. Thus, Plotinus is depicted as a man of balance, not as a unhealthy ascetic: "Plotinus' spiritual life consists in tranquil confidence and peaceful gentleness," Hadot persuades.

Plotinus sought to teach his students constant inner contemplation (very similar to meditation disciplines popularized in the West over the last several decades but not widely influential here in 1963). In the ENNEADS (the compilation of his writings, as organized by Porphyry), he explains what a diligently practicing student could experience," ' Suddenly a light bursts forth, pure and alone. We wonder whence it came: from the outside, or from the inside?...The light comes from nowhere, and it goes nowhere; it simply either appears or does not appear....What a wonder!' "

For anyone interested in this philosopher/sage, PLOTINUS OR THE SIMPLICITY OF VISION is an outstanding place to begin.
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x99cc3474) out of 5 stars Philosophy as Transformative 20 Jun. 2009
By Robin Friedman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The French philosopher Pierre Hadot (b. 1922)is known for his studies of ancient philosophy and for his teaching that philosophy is not a mere academic study. Instead, for Hadot, philosophy is a spiritual training and a way to understand one's life in the company of a teacher and like-minded individuals. Hadot's mastery of ancient philosophy and his understanding of the philosophic endeavor pervade this short outstanding introduction, written in 1963, to the life and thought of Plotinus (205 -- 270 A.D.), the most significant exponent of the philosophy known as neoplatonism.

Hadot's book on Plotinus is subtitled "The Simplicity of Vision." A good way of approaching it is to understand what Hadot means by "simplicity." Neither Plotinus nor Hadot make easy or "simple" reading. "Simplicity" here is contrasted with "multiplicity" or with what Plotinus calls "the composite." The composite is the world of everydayness, with its collage of change, a multitude of different things, and human emotions which pull in different directions and tend at each moment to tear the individual and groups of people apart. Most of the time, Plotinus thinks, we live in this composite world. We fall into the mistake of believing that it is all there is. But there is more to reality, and it lies within. By changing the way we look at things and ingrained habits and passions, we can try to redirect our attention to the purely simple -- without parts or multiplicity -- which brings goodness, beauty and stability to life.

It is Hadot's merit to show the depths of Plotinus, to explain the appeal of his vision, and to save it from misunderstanding and instant rejection in a scientific, materialistic culture. Hadot stresses the immanent character of Plotinus's vision of simplicity. For the most part, he finds that Plotinus's vision is internalized and rests upon understanding oneself in a new way, rather than in finding an "All" or and "Absolute" somehow separate from the self. Although Plotinus begins with the dualistic contrast between matter and spirit, Plotinus does not end there but moves to a philosophy of all-inclusiveness or nonduality in which terms such as "inside" or "outside" or "self" and "other" tend to lose their meaning. Plotinus does not teach creationism in the manner of the Gnostics, a Platonic demigurge, or some understandings of western theism. He sees the nature of the good and of reality as inherent to the world we see everyday and available to those who seek it through a redirection of effort. Hadot would suggest to a modern audience, I think, that because of the nature of philosophical/religious understanding and its object, as developed in Plotinus, such understanding could not "conflict" with scientific understanding which abstracts from the whole and deals with particulars. Plotinus believed that Plato and Aristotle had basically taught all the substantive teachings necessary for philosophy. Thus his teachings were devoted to exegisis, to meditation, and to spiritual growth.

Plotinus' teachings are sometimes thought to be otherworldly, aloof, and remote from the world of sense and from human contact. Hadot shows that Plotinus can be understood in a different way. The difficult teaching culminates in a manner in which the rare experience of contemplative ecstacy can be combined with living with one's fellows in daily life in teachings of compassion, gentleness, and sociability. Ultimately, Hadot teaches, Plotinus's teachings inform daily life instead of constituting a flight from it. I was reminded of the title of a recent book by the American teacher of Buddhist meditation, Jack Kornfield", "After the ecstasy, the laundry" which seems to capture something of how Hadot understands Plotinus. Hadot explains Plotinus's underlying vision in short chapters devoted to love, the virtues, companionship, and solitude, with references to Plotinian texts, the biography of Plotinus by his student Porphyry, and by parallels to modern thinkers including Bergson, Merleau-Ponty, and Wittgenstein.

Hadot sees Plotinus's importance as part of a tradition of spiritual, mystical thought that, among other things, allows one to live in the everyday and pursue the teachings of science without falling into scientism or the senseless never-ending pull back and forth of one's own emotions and desires. A great deal of contemporary spiritual, meditative thought, whether Buddhist, Western, or untied to any religious tradition has commonalities with and much to learn from Plotinus. As Hadot concludes:

"Today we are even more inwardly divided that was Plotinian man. We are still, however, capable of hearing Plotinus's call. There can be no question fo slavishly imitating the spritiual itinerary of Plotinus here in the late twentieth century; that would be impossible or illusory. Rather, we must consent, with as much courage as Plotinus did, to every dimension of human experience, and to everything within it that is mysterious, inexpressible, and transcendent." (p. 113)

Readers with an interest in spirituality and religion will benefit from knowing Hadot and Plotinus.

Robin Friedman
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x99cc38dc) out of 5 stars A Beautiful Book 19 Jun. 2008
By A. Vasquez - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I cannot say enough about Pierre Hadot. What he says in a paragraph is more than many scholars can say in an entire hefty tome. Hadot's Plotinus is intensely human, aspiring to the angelic, and always trying to recover from fleeting encounters with the Divine. Every page of this book is compelling, and Hadot shows that we have lost much in our own modern attitudes toward philosophy and thought, and uses Plotinus to propose a modest road to recovery.

This book is only a little over a hundred pages, but you will never find a better bang for your buck, guaranteed. "Sublime" doesn't even begin to describe it.
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