Review: Neoplatonism

Neoplatonism by Pauliina Remes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So what’s good about this book? Quite a lot. Miss Remes makes a very good stab at expounding the hideously complex system of ideas that is Neoplatonism, but though sympathetic she makes no effort to hide the areas where the Neplatonists were unable to come up with a satisfactory model. For example, they believed that the sensible world of matter was irredeemably bad, but their God was the unity and perfect and so all good. Unlike biblically-inspired thinkers they did not have the option of an adversary, for all had to come from God. They produced a number of fudges, which Miss Remes discusses, but none were satisfactory. Another area is exactly how the unity that is God, the undivided totality, could give rise to the multiplicity of the forms which were, because many, less perfect. Some very imaginative ideas were produced, but they were all fudges. In addition, the book contains very useful analysis based on disciplines, so we get metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, religion, etc all analysed very elegantly.

What’s not so good? First, the separation into different themes means that the unity of thought that was a characteristic of Neoplatonism is not evident, and Miss Remes does not really do much to join the strands together, so, for example, metaphysics and epistemology, in spite of being very closely related, do not overlap in this treatment. Moreover, in her effort to present a coherent exposition of a hugely complex subject, Miss Remes often seems to be synthesising her own version of Neoplatonism rather than reporting on changing beliefs. Finally, though a very sound introduction, this is only an introduction, and it would have been useful to have a proper reading list as opposed to a bibliography, if only to indicate which sources to read in what order and in which translation.

But that is by the by, this is a very worthy book, and refreshingly free of new-age cant. It provides a great introduction to this fascinating philosophy for those who wish to understand it, if only in part, and should be the first point of contact with the subject for any serious student.

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2 responses to “Review: Neoplatonism

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