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O’Meara (Plotinus:14-19) - Sobre a imortalidade da alma

Plotino - Tratado 2 (IV,7)

quinta-feira 30 de dezembro de 2021, por Cardoso de Castro


O’MEARA  , Dominic J.. Plotinus  . An Introduction to the Enneads. Oxford: Claredon Press, 1995, p. 14-19


tradução parcial

Segundo O’Meara   (1995, p. 15), Plotino   demonstra rapidamente no capítulo 1, como a questão da imortalidade envolve outra questão, aquela da natureza da alma  . Pois se somos compostos de corpo e alma, é claramente só na alma que alguma chance real   de sobreviver a morte pode ser encontrada. Mas isto significaria que a alma não pode ser corpo e deve ser capaz de existir sem o corpo. Plotino então argumenta nos capítulos 2-8 contra as afirmações estoicas e epicuristas que a alma é um corpo. Se Aristóteles   não identifica a alma com o corpo, sua abordagem no entanto faz da alma integralmente dependente do corpo para sua existência, assim como uma versão do pitagorismo que vê a alma como uma ordem harmoniosa das partes corporais. Plotino deve portanto argumentar contra estas posições também no capítulo 8 antes de concluir no capítulo 9 que a alma não é um corpo e não depende deste para sua existência.


2. The Immortality of Soul (Ennead IV. 7[2])

One of Plotinus’ first writings, Ennead IV. 7 [2], is devoted to showing that the soul is immortal. Plato   had argued for this in the Phaedo   and in the Phaedrus   (245ce). Plato’s claim that soul is an incorporeal, non-composite reality not subject to destruction is rejected by Aristotle. For Aristotle, soul, as the structure (or ‘form’) responsible for the various functions of a living body, cannot escape death. Yet one living function, intellect, seems to be an exception: in Aristotle’s view thinking is not the function of a particular bodily organ. Intellect thus seems to have a claim to immortality (De anima, 2. 2. 413b 24-7; 3. 4-5). However, Aristotle is at his most obscure here and in any case the question of immortality lies far from his primarily biological interests in the De anima. The Stoics on the whole admit only a limited and impersonal sort of immortality: after death the souls of the wise can become one with the divine spirit   [14] permeating the world. The Epicureans, true to their theory that all is nothing but a series of temporary groupings of atoms in the void, thought of soul as a grouping of (particularly fine) atoms, therefore of its very nature destined to disintegration. In IV. 7 Plotinus argues for Plato’s position by disproving the theories of Aristotle, of the Stoics, and of the Epicureans. And this argument in turn has an effect, as we will see, on the kind of position that Plotinus ends up defending.

Plotinus quickly shows (ch  . 1) how the question of immortality involves another question, that of the nature of soul. For if we are composed of body and soul, it is clearly only in soul that any real chance can be found of surviving death. But this would mean that soul cannot be body and must be able to exist without body. Plotinus therefore argues in chapters 2-83 against the Stoic and Epicurean claim that soul is a body. If Aristotle does not identify soul with body, his approach nevertheless makes soul on the whole dependent on body for its existence, as does a version of Pythagoreanism which sees soul as a harmonious order of bodily parts. Plotinus must therefore argue against these positions also (chs. 84-85) before concluding (ch. 9) that soul is not a body and does not depend for its existence on body.

3. Soul Is not Body (Ennead IV. 7. 2-83)

Many of the arguments marshalled by Plotinus against the thesis   of those, principally the Stoics, who identify soul as body are not new. They can be found already in Plato’s Phaedo, in Aristotle’s De anima, in the Aristotelian commentators, and in Middle Platonism. The overall strategy followed by Plotinus might be summarized in this way:

1. All parties involved in the debate   agree that by ‘soul’ they mean the cause responsible for life in certain bodies (including plants and animals as well   as humans).

2. The nature of body is not such as to make it capable of acting as such a cause. [15]

By arguing for the second point, Plotinus has the basis for concluding that soul, as he and his opponents understand it, cannot be of bodily nature. The second point is shown both as regards life in general and as regards various specific living functions. A few examples of Plotinus’ argument might be considered briefly here.

If soul is the source of life in a living body, it must itself have life. If it is body, then it is such as being one (or more) of the four basic constituents (or elements) of bodies—fire, air, water  , and earth—or as being a compound produced from these elements. But the elements themselves are lifeless. And things compounded from the elements depend on something else, a cause that puts them together. But this something else is what is meant by soul. Therefore soul cannot be body, either as an element or as a combination of elements (ch. 2).

As for the various specific living functions, Plotinus follows the list of functions given by Aristotle in the De anima, a list that helps make concrete what is meant by ‘life’: to live is to be capable of one or more of the functions of nutrition, growth, reproduction, locomotion, sense  -perception, imagination, memory, thought. In Plotinus’ view it can be shown that soul, as the cause responsible for these particular functions, cannot be body. For example, ‘How do we remember and how do we recognize those close to us if our souls never stay the same?’ (5. 22-4). That is, how can I have an identity that persists through time if my soul is a body and all body is in perpetual flux? And when I perceive something, I perceive as one perceiver, and not as a multitude of different perceiving parts. The power to perceive acts both as a unity and as present throughout the different parts of the body. But a body cannot be in different places and not lose its unity. Therefore soul as the faculty of perception cannot be a body (chs. 6-7). And how could there be thinking of incorporeal entities if thought is the function of a body (ch. 8)?

Plotinus has many more arguments and of those mentioned above only the briefest of summaries has been given. The arguments would not have convinced the Stoics. They had after all attempted to explain how thinking takes place in a soul that is of bodily nature. Their conception of soul includes the idea   of a unifying tensional force which binds together as a unity the different perceptual [16] components in the body. And they did not subscribe to the theory of bodily nature which Plotinus assumes, a fairly common theory in Greek philosophy which can be found in Aristotle as well as in Plato, according to which bodies are made up from four basic inanimate elements. The Stoics spoke rather of a corporeal force, a sort of cosmic life-giving spirit or breath (pneuma) which penetrates and organizes a purely passive matter, creating increasingly complex levels of material reality culminating in rationality. Plotinus, however, takes for granted his own conception of body. He thus assumes that body is incapable of self-movement, of self-organization. It does not have the power to create higher, in particular organic, functions. These functions must be produced by something different, which therefore cannot be a body.

Yet the argument with the Stoics was not fruitless. It encouraged Plotinus to think of soul as a cosmic force that unifies, organizes, sustains, and controls every aspect of the world. It is true that Plato had spoken in the Timaeus   of a cosmic soul (34b-37c). The importance which this idea takes on in Plotinus suggests that new light had been thrown on it in the confrontation with Stoicism.

4. Soul Does not Depend on Body (Ennead IV. 7. 84-85)

Having disposed to his satisfaction of the claim that soul is body, Plotinus next turns to the thesis that soul, if incorporeal, nevertheless depends on its relation to body in order to exist. Speaking of the notion that soul is a certain harmonious order of bodily parts Plotinus asks what is responsible for so arranging the parts: soul? But then soul is not the order, but rather that which makes the order (ch. 84). And if soul is the form or structure of a certain kind of body, as Aristotle claims, then what of thinking, a living function which Aristotle himself does not regard as the function of a particular bodily part. Plotinus suggests that even the lower biological functions are not tied to particular bodily organs as functions of them. The example he gives is that of a plant which can retain its various biological powers in its root even when the parts of its body corresponding to these powers are withered (ch. 85). [17]

Plotinus’ criticism of Aristotle is scarcely more convincing than his attack on Stoicism, although it is true, as he suggests, that there are very real difficulties in reconciling Aristotle’s analysis   of thinking with the rest of his psychology (on this see already Atticus, fragment 7). Plotinus’ argument here is in any case very brief. After the long struggle with Stoic materialism he hastens to the desired end, the conclusion that soul, as the source of life in bodies, is not a body and does not depend on body for its existence. This in turn points to the immortality of soul. Plotinus is quick also to convert the distinction he has established between soul and body into a broad distinction between intelligible and sensible   reality, or, in the words of Plato’s Timaeus (28a), between what is truly and eternally and what is subject to perpetual change (ch. 85. 46-50; ch. 9).

This broadening of the distinction between soul and body requires far more careful attention than it is given at the end of IV. 7. Plotinus himself indicates that many questions remain to be answered. Does the argument for immortality concern soul taken in general or also each individual soul (ch. 12)? If soul is separate from body, how does it come about that it enters body (ch. 13)? Are the souls of plants and animals immortal (ch. 14)? What of the three parts of the soul of which Plato speaks in the Republic  —do they all survive death (ch. 14)? Plotinus discusses these questions very briefly and answers some of them; he will come back to a fuller discussion of some of them in later treatises, as we will see.

5. The Concept of Soul in Ennead IV. 7

The arguments in IV. 7 for the distinction between soul and body and for the independence of soul vis-à-vis the body might strike us sometimes as sketchy and polemical. The treatise does however help to show how Plotinus’ version of Platonism was affected by the challenge represented by competing philosophies, in particular those of Aristotle and of the Stoics. No doubt Plotinus regards himself as merely defending Plato by means of disarming the adversaries. But his Plato is reshaped by the debate  . Soul in Plotinus behaves much [18] like the Stoic cosmic life-force which permeates passive matter, giving it structure, cohesion, order in every respect and detail. Furthermore the specific functions exercised by this dynamic cause correspond to those listed by Aristotle. At the same time Plotinus distances himself from Stoicism and Aristotelianism. Body in general, as the inanimate basic elements or as compounded from them, is characterized by the passivity, the incapacity for self-organization that the Stoics attributed to only one aspect of corporeal nature. This is why the dynamic force without which the world could not exist must, for Plotinus, be incorporeal and independent of body. As for Aristotelianism, Plotinus does not restrict the realm of soul to organic things, as does Aristotle: soul, for Plotinus, is responsible for the structure of the entire universe. Nor does he understand the different functions exercised by soul as necessarily existing only as the functions of the corresponding bodily organs. Soul can act in different ways in relation to different organs of the body. But it does not depend on these organs in order to exist. This may suffice at present as a preliminary sketch of Plotinus’ concept of soul. The following chapters will examine other issues that will allow us to develop our sketch in various ways.

Ver online : Plotinus. An Introduction to the Enneads. (O’Meara)