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Tag Archives: Plotinus

Graham Harman’s New Weblog: Object-Oriented Philosophy

Graham Harman’s new weblog has begun, and one can only look forward to the Latour and Heidegger friendly development of his metaphysical thought (responded to in brief by me here).

In his opening post, My Favorite Philosophers, he lists them in this order, Leibniz, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Plato and then an unexpected Brentano, Plotinus (a hidden favorite of mine) and Levinas get honorable mention. His list of 5 and reasons are worth quoting:

1. G.W. Leibniz

Here is the perfect package, as far as I’m concerned. He’s a hard-harded realist, BUT he has the weirdest imagination on the market, AND he writes such short major works that I often have “Leibniz afternoons” where I read 5 or 6 of his key works without leaving the house. Leibniz, to me, is the essence of what philosophy ought to be- take reality firmly into account, but then push it so far that you burst out laughing at what you’ve come up with.

2. Friedrich Nietzsche

It’s not that I agree with his doctrines; in fact, a majority of them are the opposite of my own. But this guy could really write. (In fact, what Leibniz really needed to achieve godhood was a devastating writing style; he had to settle for “clear,” which was good enough given his many other talents.) But no one in philosophy can write like Nietzsche. And for me, style in philosophy is not frivolous ornament atop a set of boring true propositions- style is a scalpel cutting toward the bottom of the world. Nietzsche has it.

3. Martin Heidegger.

I’m not saying he’s the 3rd greatest, just my 3rd favorite. (He’s surely one of the 10 greatest, though.) His strength and weakness are the same: the utter monotony of his ideas. Heidegger famously said that every great thinker has just one great thought, though this was probably a case of projection. Whatever one says about being, however we try to determine it, being slips away because it is always something more.

4. Plato.

I must admit that Plato was an acquired taste for me. My students tend to love reading about Socrates in the Platonic dialogues, but at age 18 I just thought it was a bunch of boring, pious, preachy drivel about justice and virtue. Nietzsche’s literary brilliance walks up and smacks you in the face. Plato’s literary genius is at least as great, but requires years of refined taste to appreciate fully.

5. Franz Brentano.

The top 5 needed a dark horse pick, and this is it. Most people know him only as Husserl’s teacher. Occasionally one goes and looks at his Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint to find a quote or two about intentionality, but it’s generally assumed that whatever is worthwhile in Brentano has already been assimilated by other, more interesting, later thinkers. But try this experiment… sit down for a weekend with something by Brentano and forget that you ever heard anything about him before. The man is incredible. He tears you apart with amazing arguments; he has wide mastery of numerous historic figures; he is self-confident in the good sense, not deferring to his elders with faked modesty; his wit is often devastating. Also, just look at his photo. I always think “Rasputin” when I see this one, and that’s the sort of charisma he had, luring both Husserl and Freud into his circle of students through his sheer oratorical power in the classroom.

 He makes an interesting point in this list to specifically address Spinoza, in particular to say why he did not enjoy him, calling his stock, humorously (and in some sense insightfully), over-priced. It is interesting because as a Spinozist I find great affinity for his project and many of his commitments. In particular though, it is his appreciation for Plotinus (a long neglected thinker of tremendous proportions) that I imagined would give him a love for Spinoza. Spinoza, in my view, is a modern Plotinus. Below I post his interesting take on Spinoza, and my lettered response to those thoughts:

Graham: “As for Spinoza, I won’t deny he’s one of the greats, but his stock is overpriced these days. Everyone rushes to show that their own views were foreshadowed by Spinoza. I happen to think that nearly every one of his ideas was on the wrong track: only one substance; determinism; stoicism. I’d flip those all upside-down.”

Myself: I love your list (especially your reason for loving Nietzsche). as a Spinozist, but not of the fanatical Continental variety, I cannot help but draw a comparison. You list Plotinus as a darkhorse thinker of preference, and Spinoza a man whose stock is way over-priced. Much praise I offer for both. Might I suggest that there is a vital connection between the two that is quite undeveloped, and that is Plotinus’s luminary view that Being exists in degrees (using the image of a halo of light rolling out into non-Being, full of Being but still ebbing). It is this concept of Being that Augustine took up (Evil as privation), and I believe eventually Spinoza secured (Falsity as privation). It provides some antidote to the visualization of Being that binary, while still giving flat ontologies a certain depth (much like the depth you give Latour). Might I (eventually) seduce you into purchasing this stock, not in a Deleuzian way, but a Plotinian way, in an analytical way, I would be much joyed.

This is not to rescue him completely from your criticism, for Spinoza is everywhere, practically as omnipresent as his God. But he seems to speak to a certain pre-Kantian, alter-Cartesian future. And we do know that Leibniz had a bit of a weakness for Spinoza, both as a philosopher and an optical instrument maker (Spinoza’s much obscured materialist, and even cybernetic side). (Multitudnal Substances are nothing more than his modes, determinism is only the power of the explanation and description, and stocism is just the purity and power of the affects.) Part of the pleasure of their being so much Spinoza is the chance to read him outside of, that is beyond, the tradition(s), much as you have done for Heidegger who had his nice run at ubiquity.

A primary location for Spinoza’s Plotinian degree-of-Being conception, the General Definition of the Affects, explanation:

“I say, further, whereby the mind affirms concerning its body or any part thereof a force for existence greater [or less] than before. For all the ideas of bodies, which we possess, denote rather the actual disposition of our own body (E2P16C2) than the nature of an external body. But the idea which constitutes the reality of an affect must denote or express the disposition of the body, or of some part thereof, which is possessed by the body, or some part thereof, because its power of action or force for existence is increased or diminished, helped or hindered.
But it must be noted that, when I say a greater or less force for existence than before, I do not mean that the mind compares the present with the past disposition of the body, but that the idea which constitutes the reality of an affect affirms something of the body, which, in fact, involves more or less of reality than before. [sed quod idea, quae affectus formam constituit, aliquid de corpore affirmat, quod plus minusve realitatis revera involvit, quam antea]”

Deleuze on Spinoza and Plotinus and Luminosity

Emanate, Immanent and the Spatiality of Light

Because the distinction between Deleuze’s distinction between emanate and immanent is an interesting one, I thought I would post some of Deleuze’s thoughts on Plotinus in reference to Spinoza here, for the convenience of investigative readers. If interested, follow the link below. (Other thoughts on Plotinus and Spinoza are found in his Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza pages 170-178):

One of Plato’s disciples, Plotinus, speaks to us at a certain level of the One as the radical origin of Being. Here, Being comes out of [sort de] the One. The One makes Being, therefore it is not, it is superior to Being. This will be the language of pure emanation: the One emanates Being. That is to say the One does not come out of itself in order to produce Being, because if it came out of itself it would become Two, but Being comes out of the One. This is the very formula of the emanative cause. But when we establish ourselves at the level of Being, this same Plotinus will speak to us in splendid and lyrical terms of the Being that contains all beings, the Being that comprehends all beings. And he issues a whole series of formulae which will have very great importance for the whole philosophy of the Renaissance. He will say Being complicates all beings. It’s an admirable formula. Why does Being complicate all beings? Because each being explicates Being. There will be a linguistic doublet here: complicate, explicate…

…Why? Because this was undoubtedly the most dangerous theme. Treating God as an emanative cause can fit because there is still the distinction between cause and effect. But as immanent cause, such that we no longer know very well how to distinguish cause and effect, that is to say treating God and the creature the same, that becomes much more difficult. Immanence was above all danger. So much so that the idea of an immanent cause appears constantly in the history of philosophy, but as [something] held in check, kept at such-and-such a level of the sequence, not having value, and faced with being corrected by other moments of the sequence and the accusation of immanentism was, for every story of heresies, the fundamental accusation: you confuse God and the creature. That’s the fatal accusation. Therefore the immanent cause was constantly there, but it didn’t manage to gain a status [statut]. It had only a small place in the sequence of concepts.
Spinoza arrives…

…It’s with Plotinus that a pure optical world begins in philosophy. Idealities will no longer be only optical. They will be luminous, without any tactile reference. Henceforth the limit is of a completely different nature. Light scours the shadows. Does shadow form part of light? Yes, it forms a part of light and you will have a light-shadow gradation that will develop space. They are in the process of finding that deeper than space there is spatialization. Plato didn’t know [savait] of that. If you read Plato’s texts on light, like the end of book six of the Republic, and set it next to Plotinus ‘s texts, you see that several centuries had to pass between one text and the other. These nuances are necessary. It’s no longer the same world. You know [savez] it for certain before knowing why, that the manner in which Plotinus extracts the texts from Plato develops for himself a theme of pure light. This could not be so in Plato. Once again, Plato’s world was not an optical world but a tactile-optical world. The discovery of a pure light, of the sufficiency of light to constitute a world implies that, beneath space, one has discovered spatialization. This is not a Platonic idea, not even in the Timeus.

Found here 


Spinoza and Plotinus, some morning thoughts

I ran across a LiveJournal entry that touched on something I have always found of interest, the relationship of Spinoza to Plotinus:

It’s amazing how much Spinoza resembles Plotinus.

Plotinus said that, instead of creation ex nihilo, existence emanated from God.

Emanation ex deo (out of God), confirms the absolute transcendence of the One, making the unfolding of the cosmos purely a consequence of its existence; the One is in no way affected or diminished by these emanations.

This mirrors Spinoza’s idea that “creation” (so to speak) was necessary because God exists; and that the world is the way it is, and could be no other way, because of the nature of God. And though physical things are contingent (limited by things outside of themselves), God/substance is the only non-contingent, necessary thing, because God is not acted upon by outside agents (there is nothing outside of God). Existence necessarily exists, because of the nature of God, but the modes of existence are contingent.

In Plotinus’ view, it’s the ulimate destiny of contingent things to reunite with the One. I haven’t read anything about ultimate ends in Spinoza’s Ethics, but if I remember correctly, he agrees (kinda) with Plotinus. Not only is it our fate to disappear into God (to become one with the Force!)–a fate which we have no choice about–we should actively assent to it, in order to increase our happiness.

The conceptual parallels between Spinoza and Plotinus have always appeared to me to be significant, as it seems that somehow through Plotinus Spinoza had an inheritance of the “degrees of Being” interpretation of power and truth. One does not know if he received this Neo-Platonic inheritance through Augustine or through an early youth exposure to Kabbalistic thinking that was rife in the religious community at the time, but very few interpreters seem to give it much weight, preferring instead the Cartesian root-stem. But Spinoza vectorial treatment of knowledge and his General defintion of the affects surely demands such an additional analysis. That I know of, only Deleuze (EiP:S, pp 170 -178) gives substantive consideration to this continuance, as he touchily tries to parse out Spinoza’s immanencefrom Plotinus’s emanation, a perhaps vital distinction (dictionary bending, one that always gets me flipping the pages to re-familiarize myself with these two words).

Such a connection proves significant because it bears on “ladyelaine’s” final paragraph here the path to freedom, for Hegel too thought that Spinoza’s position ultimately lead to an acomism, the collapse of all that exists into an non-distinct whole, a Blob of Being, without reflection. Hegel’s view was likely held because reflection was the gem-stone of his personal brilliant crown, the manner by which he pulled himself free, and originally from Spinoza gravity, the analytic that distinguished himself. Spinoza was missing the Reality of the “negation”, but was he? Hegel’s saving of the “soul”, the surety that the human soul was special, made of a distinction that was different in kind from the manner of distinctions that made rocks, and lakes and even sun’s light distinct somehow fails to grasp the grandeur of Spinoza’s treatment of the negation. The negation is indeed Real, but real as a comprehensive expression of the whole, wholeness against which the vectors of knowledge and power leverage themselves as completing. My own conceptions are composed of illusionary negations (distinctions of separation) only insofar as they limit my ability to act. Following Augustine in some way, they are composed of a relative poverty, degrees of privation. And this privation is only resolved through addition, an addition that is both bodily and relatively clear (insofar as).

I believe that a subtle key is that the “active assent” that ladyelaine intuits to be missing from Spinoza, only at first blush only seems absent, because it is everywhere. Every thought Spinoza asserts is an assertion. This is only retarded by imagining that a “person” is at the center of this assertion, instead of being composed by it. ladyelaine elsewhere touches on the difficulty she has in accepting that mind can be ascribed to something that is not a person (here). This of course is an ultimate question. Is it coherent to think of a rock having “mind”? Or, perhaps more tempting, is it coherent to think that a rock has “information”? It seems to me is that Spinoza proposes a unique monist (and material) solution, one that allows us to see that as minds we much necessarily combine with other minds, and (a very signficant “and”) as bodies we must combine with other bodies, forming compositional, thinking and affective wholes (however fleetingly). And, our freedom depends on it.

Related: Becoming Intense and Longitude: Deleuze and Guattari , Deleuze Lecture on Spinoza

The Reality of the Affects: Spinoza’s Plotinian Real

In counterbalance to the points made in the post below, I have the following thoughts which stem from Lilli Alanen’s response to Della Rocca:

In reading Alanen’s response to Della Rocca’s “Rationalism Run Amok” I have a few questions. In particular it is her trouble with the idea that all affects are illusionary.

Here is the germ of it:

So existence is not an all or nothing affair but comes in more and less. But then the conclusion that we with our passive affects exist to a much lesser degree than the eternal and infinite God does not seem very startling. It becomes so only if one, as Della Rocca seems to do, sides with idealist Spinoza commentators in thinking that anything less than full intelligibility, and with it full perfection or being, lacks reality.

Do we really need to draw such drastic conclusions? More to the point: do we need to draw these drastic conclusions?

Here’s a worry: There is, Della Rocca argues, a sense in which passive affects are real and fully intelligible, namely qua ideas in God’s mind. The very same ideas which are confused in my mind are distinct and adequate in God’s. This is just a manifestation of what he calls the mind-relativity of content (p. 19). Does this mean affects are fully real in God’s mind? Hardly qua affects, since God’s mind contains only adequate ideas. So are they unreal after all? I’m troubled by mind-relativity here and have a hard time seeing how adequate ideas in God’s mind could be the same as the confused one in ours?

This is the difficulty that I have. Alanen seems to argue that because our intuition tells us that if something exists to some degree, it can be said to exist completely so. That is, because Spinoza grants that affects are idea-expressions of degrees of being, these affects themselves must be said to exist, fully. But isn’t it Spinoza’s entire point that such ideas and affects in so far as they have being, are already perfect (in the mind of God), and in so far as they don’t have being, are imperfect and inadequate? Because Spinoza makes being itself the vector of inadequacy, I don’t see how one can say that affects actually are (despite our intuition, and experience that they are). The way that Spinoza has set it up seems to be that the predicate of being is entirely linked to the degree of adequacy. By insisting that affects are “real” Alanen is insisting something of the order that “degrees of being are real” has full being, and I am not sure how in Spinoza’s system on could do that.

If I put my question a different way, Spinoza in a famous letter to Jellis, denies the being of “negation”:

As to the doctrine that figure is negation and not anything positive, it is plain that the whole of matter considered indefinitely can have no figure, and that figure can only exist in finite and determinate bodies. For he who says, that he perceives a figure, merely indicates thereby, that he conceives a determinate thing, and how it is determinate. This determination, therefore, does not appertain to the thing according to its being, but, on the contrary, is its non-being. As then figure is nothing else than determination, and determination is negation, figure, as has been said, can be nothing but negation.

Letter 50 to Jellis, June 2, 1674

The negation of which a particular figure is composed, pertains only to its non-being. Would one say then that “negation” for Spinoza must have being? Or even that “non-being” for Spinoza, must have “being”? This seems like a similar kind of assertion to the one that Alanen proposes, and it appears to undercut what Spinoza is attempting to say.

A similar problem occurs in the assessment of the Blind Man in his letter to Blijenbergh (Letter 21, Jan 28, 1665). Here Spinoza wants to tell us that a blind man is no less perfect than a stone is perfect:

“I proceed further to the explanation of the terms “Negation” and “Privation”…I say, therefore, that Privation is, not the act of depriving, but only the pure and simple lack, which is itself nothing. Indeed it is only a Being of reason, or mode of thinking, which we form when we compare things with one another. We say, for example, that a blind man is deprived of sight because we easily imagine him as seeing…But when we consider God’s decree, and his nature, we can no more affirm that of man than of a Stone, that he is deprived of vision…God is no more the cause of his not seeing than of the stone’s not seeing, which is pure Negation”

If one replaces “seeing” with “affect” we see that having an affect is only a negation, a negation which is nothing (has no Being). If we connect up any affective being with the Totality of which it is an expression (that is, remove all its negations and border), the affect disappears, because there is no transition in power or degree of being. That is Spinoza’s point, is it not?

The same thing seems to register on the level of epistemology:

E4p1dem: Falsity consists only in the privation of knowledge…”

What Alanen seems to be want to say is that the “privation of knowledge” is real, the “negation of sight” in a blind man (and a stone) is real, that non-being is real. But this seems to undercut a primary embrace of Being, the idea that Being is a plentitude and that negation is an illusion of perspective, comparison, projected ideas and inadequate ideas. Although she critique’s Della Rocca for accepting an Idealist-type conclusion, one that makes the changes in the world to be mere illusions, she seems accept the very thing that Hegel critiqued Spinoza for failing to see, the Reality of the Negation. Rather it seems, Spinoza has to be taken at his word, that degrees of being are exactly that, degrees of being.

I wonder how she would square her interpretation with the clear comments on Negation and Privation taken above?

Closely Related Post: Negation and the Unseeing Stone


Teiresias and Sophocles resolve Non-Being


And I find it so curious, for those that follow Heidegger (and even those of a Phenomenological bent in general, descendents of Brentano’s intentionality thesis), how fully the optical metaphor of “appearance” is embraced, as if this were the only mode of doing, thinking, acting. While it is certain that we, as a species, are a visual creature, to be so dominated by just one trope, just one mode, is striking to me.It recalls something that blind Teiresias says in the Antigone (a play often over-read in terms of presence and exclusion, following Hegel’s appropriation), something I think that en-LIGHT-ens the limits of the optical trope.

Sophocles for Teiresias wrote:

…We came by a common road,

Two-out-of-one seeing. With the blind so

It is this path, out of the fore-leader it moves.

lines 988-991

In this way Sophocles unlocks the binary dynamics of non-being. For going forward as a human being is much more tactile, much more omni-sensical, and affective, than any over-riding metaphor of seeing and darkness demand. In this Teiresias talks of how as a blind man he must see through the eyes of the sighted boy who leads him [two out of one seeing], in a way that is combinatory. Thus for those who cannot see [all human beings] this is the only path that there is, a path that literally moves, goes, comes-out-of the one that goes before [ek proegetou]. The “path” literally moves by those that are ahead. Our contact with them is more polyvalent than simple binary being and non-being will allow.

Plotinus, notably, offers similiar combinatory, cybernetic understanding. The notion of vision as knowing leads to a physical synthesis of eyes:

Beholding (theöria) and the beheld (to theõêma) have no boundaries (peras)…For it is not spatially limited (perigegraptai). It is, of course not present in the same way in every soul, since it is not even in a like way in every part of the soul. That is why the charitoteer gives the horses a share of what he sees (myth of ambriosia and nectar, Phaedrus: 247E5-6); and they in taking it obviously would have desired what they saw, for they did not get it at all. And if in their longing they act, they act for the sake of what they long for; and that the beheld and that beholding (Enn. 3.8.5).

If they are two, the knower will be one thing, and the known the other, and contemplation (theõria) has not yet made this pair akin to each other (õieiõsen) (Enn. 3.8.8).

The non-spatial quality of presencing, is taken up in blind man talk of the ubiquity of voice:

…just as if there was a sound filling an empty space (katechousês epêmian), or with an empty space (meta tês erêmias), with men too, and by setting yourself to listen at any point in the empty space, you will recieve the whole sound, and yet not the whole. Enn. 3.8.9)

This does not mean that Being and Non-being should not be discussed, and teased out into the thinnest of their threads. For long as one follows the dominant metaphors of Sight, Appearance, Phenomena, there must be room for Non-Being in the discussion.


But any philosophy of presence, appearance and negation, has to take advise from Teiresias’ immanent “by a common road”, a material enfolding of perception, the path out of which grows from its lead and combination. The two-out-of-one seeing.


Spinoza: The Body of Ideas as Lens



Something that has always tugged on me in the effort to understand Spinoza. No commentator I know of has made much of the ideas implicit in Spinoza’s means of survival. In fact it strikes me as dramatically under studied. He was a lens grinder (in fact it is assumed that he died an early death from the glass inhalations of that work). If one thinks about what lens grinding is, it is the shaping of a material thing, glass, according very precise mathematical ideas (calculations), the result of which is the change in the idea (representations) that are produced by that lens. In a sense, the lens holds the analogy whereby the material expresses an idea, whose product is a representation. The better the math, the clearer (literally), the image. Spinoza lived at the rise of the use of the camera obscura (Hockney), and it was the master painter Rembrandt who lived down the street in his childhood neighborhood.In the age of representation, that is just after Descartes, when ideas will be thought of clear and unclear representations of reality, Spinoza had a priviledged position. He actually was a grinder of a mechanism of representation, so he understood both the ideational and the material aspects of what makes representations happen. In this way, he is not interested so much in the Cartesian theatre, that is what he calls “fictions we feign from the illusion of free will”:

Spinoza wrote:

We must investigate, I say, whether there is any other affirmation or negation in the Mind except that which the idea involves, insofar as it is an idea…so that our thought does not fall into pictures. For by ideas I understand, not the images that are formed at the back of the eye (and if you like, at the middle of the brain), but concepts of Thought [or the objective Being of a thing, insofar as it exists only in Thought]

Ethics, 2p48s.


The pictures made, the imaginary images that supposedly occur to us in our Cartesian theatre, are really of less interest to Spinoza. And perhaps this is because he was a lens grinder. What he imagines is that if we get more adequate ideas, not our pictures will become sharper, but the lens itself will become more capable of acting, more Joyful, more expressive. In a sense perhaps, as a lens grinder, Spinoza was a first primative computer programmer, to return to your illustration, in that he took a program (a mathematical formula) and programmed a piece of material (glass), so as to produce some capacity of informing action. He imagined though, that the ideas that were important were not those that were supposedly projected at the back of the head (in a Cartesian world), to be viewed by an abstract will, but were the very ideas which constituted the material organization of the body, in a kind of mobius loop. That is, like a program, the ideas we hold shape, and express our very construct, and end up producing our very affective experience of ourselves and the world. While we spend much time looking the the Cartesian movie show, and thinking about just what is going on there, what it means, I think Spinoza wants us to spend more time thinking about what it means to be, and what it feels like being, a lens. An interesting turn on Plontus’ analogy of the Mirror and light. The very least, I think that being a lens grinder convinced him of the absolutely material, and parallel manifestation of any idea.