Porphyry the Apostate: Assessing Porphyry's Reaction to Plotinus's Doctrine of the One

Heythrop Journal 52 (1):1-10 (2011)
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Abstract
Although recent scholarship has begun to clarify Porphyry’s position on the first principle in its distinction from that of Plotinus we must be careful not to gloss over the crucial ramifications of Porphyry’s developments. The Plotinian One is beyond Being, and thus beyond all relation and difference. In his attempt to understand how such a principle can be productive of all else that follows from it, Porphyry considers the Plotinian One in both its transcendent and creative aspects, introducing the notions of difference and self-relation within the One itself. Porphyry’s modifications of Plotinus’s doctrine, however, result in a first principle having a character utterly distinct from what Plotinus envisioned, and from what I believe Plotinus would have accepted. Because Porphyry’s first principle is relational, it loses its decisive Plotinian character as absolutely transcendent. This distinction between the first principles of Porphyry and Plotinus has important ramifications for each of their philosophical itineraria, and further strengthens the status of Plotinus within the Neoplatonic tradition. Plotinus is a unique thinker within the Neoplatonic tradition, and we must be careful not to equate Neoplatonism with Plotinus, when in fact, it is Plotinus who against both his own predecessors and successors often stands alone.
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