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v2.1 Reference

From the Alien to the Alone

A Study of Soul in Plotinus

Plotinus is often accused of writing haphazardly, with little concern for the integral unity of a treatise. By analyzing each treatise as a whole, From the Alien to the Alone finds much evidence that he constructed them skillfully, with the parts working together in subtle ways. This insight was also key in translating several central passages by considering the flow of the argument as a whole to shed light on the difficulties in these passages as well as reveal the structure often latent in particular treatise. The volume also serves to clarify Plotinus' rich use of images. Commentators, for instance, tend to take the images of light and warmth to explain the relation of soul and body as in conflict, with light casting out warmth. A close look at the text, however, reveals that Plotinus uses each image to correct the limitations of the other. Thus, since the soul is incorporeal, it is actually more transcendent than light and as activating the body is more completely present than warmth. Similarly, recent commentators are quick to take the related impassibility of the soul as implying a Cartesian gap between body and soul. The problem Plotinus faces, however, is that his description of the soul's pervasive presence in the body jeopardizes its impassibility as in the intelligible. His effort then is actually to introduce a gap that preserves the soul's nature, rather than overcome a gap that would make the very existence of the body problematic.

While this work confirms much recent scholarly consensus on Plotinus, many of Gurtler's interpretations and general conclusions give constructive challenges to some existing modes of understanding Plotinus' thought. The arguments and their textual evidence, with the accompanying Greek, provide the reader with direct evidence for testing these conclusions as well as appreciating the nature of Plotinus' philosophizing.

About the Author

Gary Gurtler, SJ is associate professor of philosophy at Boston College.


"Gurtler's approach through these themes and their exploration through carefully selected entire treatises allow him to reveal new connections in Plotinus' thought and fresh insights, both in detail and in a larger vision of the shape of his philosophical program. Makes a very significant contribution as a corrective to many often distorted conventional interpretations of Plotinus."—Andrew Smith, University College Dublin

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