Podcast episode

Episode 113: Mateusz Stróżyński on Spiritual Practices in Plotinus

In this episode we discuss spiritual practice in Plotinus. We start from the human condition as embodied beings, part of an organism, and the primordial tolma which led to this ‘fallen’ state. Stróżyński then leads us back ‘up’ to the undescended state of the human self, the noetic human being. Stróżyński pursues his elucidation of Plotinian anthropology from two perspectives, from that of the embodied human being seen from the macrocosmic perspective as the necessary expression of the Good in the many, and thus as in fact a facet of the beautiful, ordered whole that is the living kosmos, and from that of the microcosmic human soul stuck in the kosmos, for whom the embodied life is a fallen state. This multidirectional approach helps to elucidate in precisely which sense there is ‘something wrong’ in the human condition which needs to be addressed by the philosopher, while still maintaining the integral wholeness and perfection of reality.

Along the way we discuss his ideas about the meditative disciplines which Stróżyński sees as the practical means through which the Plotinian philosopher of antiquity would have pursued this ascent to higher states of consciousness and being.

Specific topics discussed also include:

  • The Plotinian idea of tolma, the noetic ‘audacity’ which he sometimes makes the culprit for human embodiment, framed in terms of the five ‘greatest kinds’, which constitute the categories of reality at the noetic level,
  • The phenomenology of the embodied human as limited, subject to outside influence, and usually unconscious of his higher nature (which makes up the majority of the human being) and of the whole field of lower, bodily impulses,
  • The spiritual practices taught by Plotinus for the cultivation of identification with the higher self rather than with the body, which Stróżyński postulates were mostly taught orally, but traces of which can be found in the Enneads, including:
  • A practice of ‘turning away’ from the world of the bodily senses, which Stróżyński interprets as especially important in the early stages of spiritual practice, and
  • The mind-expanding ‘imagination-experiments’, wherein Plotinus asks us to create visual imagery of the immaterial realities (which is impossible, and the impossibility of which leads, with luck, to a creative cessation of discursive thinking).

Interview Bio:

Mateusz Stróżyński (born 1979) is classicist, philosopher, psychologist and psychotherapist. He is interested in contemplation and spiritual exercises in ancient philosophy, primarily in the Platonist tradition (Plotinus and Augustine), but he has also published on Marcus Aurelius and the medieval Christian mystic Angela of Foligno. He is an associate professor in the Institute of Classical Philology at Adam Mickiewicz University (AMU) in Poznań, Poland, and the Director of the Institute since January 2021. His plans for the nearest future include an international research project on Angela of Foligno and heterodox Franciscan movements ca. 1270-1320 (awarded recently by the National Science Centre in Poland) as well as completing a book on the contemplation of the intelligible world in Plotinus.

Publications about Plotinus:

  • Filozofia jako terapia w pismach Marka Aureliusza, Plotyna i Augustyna (Philosophy as Therapy in Marcus Aurelius, Plotinus, and Augustine), Poznań 2014 (in Polish).
  • The Aporetic Method in Plotinus’ Enneads“, Symbolae Philologorum Posnaniensium 24, 1 (2014) 17-31.
  • “The Self as Hypernoetic Intellect in Plotinus’ Philosophy”, Hermes 148, 1 (2020) 53-68.
  • “The Ascent of the Soul as Spiritual Exercise in Plotinus’ Enneads“, Mnemosyne (2020) (Advance Articles).
  • “Spiritual Exercise in Plotinus: the Deictic Method”, Classical Philology (forthcoming).
  • “The One as Giver in Plotinus: metaphysical and spiritual implications”, a talk given at Cambridge Center for the Study of Platonism on October 19th, 2020.

Recommended Reading:

  • N. Banner. The indeterminate self and its cultivation in plotinus. In Richard Seaford, John Wilkins, and Matthew Wright, editors, Self and the Soul: Essays on Ancient Thought and Literature in Honour of Christopher Gill, pages 139–159. Oxford Uni- versity Press, Oxford, 2017.
  • S. R. L. Clarke. Plotinus: Myth, Metaphor, and Philosophical Practice. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL/London, 2016.
  • J. Deck. Nature, Contemplation, and the One. University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1967.
  • John Dillon. Plotinus and the Transcendental Imagination. In James P. Mackey, editor, Religious Imagination, pages 55–64. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 1986.
  • P. Hadot. Plotinus or the Simplicity of Vision. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1993. Translated by Michael Chase.
  • Idem. Philosophy as a Way of Life. Blackwell, Oxford, 1995. Translated by Michael Chase.
  • Idem. L’union de l’âme avec l’intellect divin dans l’expérience mystique plotinienne. In G. Boss and B. Seel, editors, Proclus et son influence: actes du colloque de Neuchâtel, 1985, pages 3–27. Editions du Grand Midi, Neuchâtel, 1986.
  • S. Rappe. Self-knowledge and Subjectivity in the Enneads. In Lloyd P. Gerson, editor, The Cambridge Companion to Plotinus, pages 250–74. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1996.
  • Idem. Reading Neoplatonism: Non-Discursive Thinking in the Texts of Plotinus, Proclus and Damascius. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, MI, 2000.
  • J. Rist. Integration and the Undescended Soul in Plotinus. American Journal of Philology, 88(4):410–422, Oct. 1967.
  • F. M. Schroeder. Form and Transformation: A Study in the Philosophy of Plotinus. Queens University Press, Montreal, 1992.
  • R. Wallis. Nous as Experience. In R. Baine Harris, editor, The Significance of Neoplatonism, pages 121–154. International Society for Neoplatonic Studies, Norfolk, VA, 1976.



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