• Dialectic as Ostension Towards the Transcendent: Language and Mystical Intersubjectivity in Plotinus’ Enneads

    Albert R Haig (see profile)
    Christian Mysticism, Gnosticism, Philosophy, Philosophy of Religion, Religious Studies
    Plato, Language and languages--Philosophy, Mysticism, Intersubjectivity, Language and languages
    Item Type:
    Plotinus, Neoplatonism, Philosophy of language, Language
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    The theory of language that underlies Plotinus’ Enneads is considered in relation to his broader metaphysical vision. For Plotinus, language is neither univocal nor equivocal, but is something in-between, incapable of precisely describing reality, but nonetheless not completely useless. Propositional knowledge expressed discursively represents an imperfect shadow of reality which is defective in relation to the pure apprehension of Intellect. Passages in Plotinus which relate language to the sensible world are examined and it is argued that, although it plays a useful role in relating the sensible world to Intellect, discursive reason is nonetheless intrinsically inferior to both as a mode of representation. Plotinus holds that the inadequacy of language is “global” in character; language cannot describe any aspect of reality precisely, from the mundane to the transcendent. Language as a whole is an inferior image or imitation of the world as a whole. Therefore, the flaws in our linguistic representations cannot all be untangled or conceptually unpacked by means of language. There are passages in the Enneads which hint at an underlying semantic holism. Plotinus’ theory implies that apparent verbal contradictions which occur in different contexts might nonetheless still represent the optimal linguistic description of a reality that strictly speaking is ineffable. Therefore, discursive logical deduction is not always reliable, and needs to be subordinated to a vision of Intellect. True philosophical reasoning (dialectic) represents ostension towards the transcendent. Those who are sufficiently liberated to attain to an apprehension of the Forms, thereby come to inhabit the same “higher world”, involving a shared mystical intersubjectivity, which can be expressed linguistically, but only in an approximate manner. Plotinus’ theory presents a potential way out of the nihilistic impasse into which contemporary philosophy has arguably become enmeshed.
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