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Plotinus Metaphysics, Emanation or Creation

Plotinus Metaphysics, Emanation or Creation

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Plotinus's Metaphysics: Emanation or Creation?Author(s): Lloyd P. GersonSource:
The Review of Metaphysics,
Vol. 46, No. 3 (Mar., 1993), pp. 559-574Published by: Philosophy Education Society Inc.Stable URL:
Accessed: 16/10/2009 10:30
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PLOTINUS'S METAPHYSICS: EMANATION OR CREATION?
LLOYD P. GERSON
vJnE FREQUENTLY READS CASUAL REFERENCES to Neo-Platonic metaphysics as emanationist. It is somewhat less common to find analyses of the term emanation so used. In this paper I shall be concerned solely with Plotinus. I hereby set aside all questions regarding any common denominator one might suppose between Plotinus and, say, Proclus. There are several texts in the Enneads which employ noun and verb forms of peco to describe the activity of the One in relation to complex entities. For example, For the soul now knows that these things must be, but longs to answer the question repeatedly discussed also by the ancient philosophers, how from the One, if it is such as we say it is, anything else, whether a multiplicity or a dyad or a number, came into existence, and why it did not on the contrary remain by itself, but such a great multiplicity flowed [e?eppvr)] from it as that which is seen to exist in beings, but which we think it right to refer back to the One. (5.1.6.2-8)1 This, we may say, is the first act of generation: the One, perfect because it seeks nothing, has nothing, and needs nothing, overflows [virepeppvrj], as it were, and its superabundance makes something other than itself. (5.2.1.5-10) The first remark I wish to make about these passages is the obvious one that to think of emanating or flowing in contrast to creating is to make a sort of category mistake. For metaphors are not properly contrasted with technical terminology.2 If one wants convincing on this point, we need only recall that Aquinas sometimes 1 All translations are by A. H. Armstrong in the eight volume Loeb edition of the works of Plotinus (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1966-88). 2 A similar point is made by Fernand Brunner, Cr?ation et ?manation: fragment de philosophie compar?e, Studia Philosophia 33 (1973): 33-63.
Review of Metaphysics 46 (March 1993): 559-574. Copyright ? 1993 by the Review of Metaphysics
 
560 LLOYD P. GERSON
uses the same metaphor in behalf of an explanation of creation, not in contrast to it.3 Conceding this, there is still the reasonable sus picion that some fundamental difference remains between Plotinus' metaphysics and a creation metaphysics such as that of Aquinas. I conjecture that the reason for this suspicion is that Plotinus is
supposed to be the faithful inheritor of the Parmenidean legacy
which lays down the axiom that ex nihilo nihilfit. Aquinas, however, understands creation as ex nihilo. So it would seem just incorrect to construe the metaphors of emanation in a manner which would make Plotinus contradict that axiom. This reasoning seems less cogent when we begin to explicate the term ex nihilo; for one thing Aquinas does not mean by creatio
ex nihilo is temporal origin. That God is the creator of all Aquinas
believes he can demonstrate; that the world did not always exist is held by faith alone.4 Thus, the philosophical core of the notion of creation is causal dependence of being: Deus est causa universalis totius esse. The proper effect of God's causal activity is the being of everything.5 Let us compare this with a text of Plotinus: But how is that One the principle of all things? Is it because as principle it keeps them in being, making each one of them to be? Yes, and because it caused them to be. (5.3.15.28-30)6 A good question for proponents of emanationism in Plotinus to ask themselves at this point is how this passage and similar ones express a noncreationist metaphysics. One proposal sometimes made in order to differentiate a non creationist from a creationist metaphysics is that in the former creatures exist of necessity whereas in the latter they do not. 3 See, for example, Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae I, q. 45, a. 1: Sicut igitur generado hominis est ex non ente quod est non homo, ita creatio, quae est emanatio totius esse, est ex non ente quod est nihil. Heinrich D?rrie provides a useful survey of the literary uses of the language of emanation in his Emanation. Ein unphilosophisches Wort im sp?tan tiken Denken, in Parusia, ed. Kurt Flasch (Frankfurt am Main: Minerva, 1960), 211-28. 4 See Summa theologiae I, q. 46, a. 2. 5 Illud autem quod est proprius effectus Dei creantis, est illud quod praesupponitur omnibus aliis, scilicet esse absolute ; Summa theologiae I,
q. 46, a. 5. 6 ottoos be eneivo apxv r v iravro?v; ?pa, on avr? ou?ei ev enaarov avTcov 7TOL7]aaaa elvac, rj koI otl virearrjaev avra. Cf. Enneads 3.8.10.1-2, 4.8.6.1-6, 5.3.17.11-14, 5.5.5.5-7, 6.7.42.11, 6.9.1.1-2.

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