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Love Part 5: Plotinus

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Plotinus, a follower of Plato, has a detailed mythology of how love, the god, was born, and its divine nature—all of which I didn't have the patience to follow (it is very detailed!). Much of this is actually a commentary on the mythology found in Plato's Symposium.

Plotinus, like Plato, is a hard core dualist who believes that we should think of the material world as a dirty illusion, a reflection and "wanna-be" of the Real World--the immaterial world of perfect ideas. He thinks of love as existing in between these two realms; it exists in us as the link to the heavenly realm of Platonic ideal Forms. Love is the thing in the soul that constantly longs for “the Good,” “God,” “Truth,” etc:

“ [love] springs from the intention of the Soul towards its Best, towards the Good; as long as Soul has been, Love has been.” It was “born at the banquet of the gods,” sprung from “Poverty and Possession,” and “is of mixed quality. On the one hand there is in it the lack which keeps it craving: on the other, it is not entirely destitute.” “Thus Love," he elaborates, "is at once, in some degree a thing of Matter and at the same time a Celestial, sprung of the Soul; for Love lacks its Good but, from its very birth, strives towards It.”

So its kinda like the postage stamp of the soul, reminding us where we came from and where we need to go; without love, would we even know about this other Realm?

Love, being a "mixed" thing, is constantly battling with earthly love:

“The soul in its nature loves God and longs to be at one with Him in the noble love of a daughter for a noble father; but coming to human birth and lured by the courtships of this sphere, she takes up with another love, a mortal, leaves her father and falls. But one day coming to hate her shame, she puts away the evil of earth, once more seeks the father, and finds her peace.”

Plotinus is not a fan of earthy love, or earthly things at all. He is a complete dualist and in favor of neglecting our earthy desires: “here what we love is perishable, hurtful, that our loving is of mimicries and turns awry because all was a mistake, our good was not here, this was not what we sought; There only is our veritable love…”

Is he telling us not to love people? It's hard to tell. It sounds like he is in favor of a morality that a Monk or Nun might perhaps agree with: that romantic love takes away from spiritual love, but love of humanity in general is ok. However when he talks of marriage he thinks of this love as a stepping stone:

“but it, also, has its touch of the upward desire; and, in the degree of that striving, it stirs and leads upwards the Souls of the young and every Soul with which it is incorporated in so far as there is a natural tendency to remembrance of the divine.”

Ultimately, the primary motive to love is to see the immaterial beauty in yourself, other people, and things in general. It is not to neglect people, but to love the best things about them:

“What do you feel in presence of the grace you discern in actions, in manners, in sound morality, in all the works and fruits of virtue, in the beauty of souls? When you see that you yourselves are beautiful within, what do you feel?...These are no other than the emotions of Souls under the spell of love.”

Related Posts
Love Part 1: Platonic Love
Love Part 2: Aristotle
Love Part 3: Epictetus and stoic love 
Love Part 4: Marcus Aurelius


postage stamp love

Posted by Matt Smith at 06/16/2011 09:23:12 AM