by Frank Bertrand
(Read Frank's First "Dear Phil Letter")
This is getting curioser and curioser, Phil. In your interview with me
you mention no less than 12 different philosophers by name, Spinoza three
times in fact. But it is only of Plotinus that you say, "...the last
influenced me greatly."
I very much prefer, Phil, what Plato wrote in his Seventh Letter:"We are indeed able to say something of It, but we cannot describe It. Nor have we any knowledge or intellectual perception of It. For we can say what It is not, but we cannot say what It is. We are not, however, prevented from possessing It, though we cannot say what It is."
Nevertheless, I can certainly see why you say, in retrospect, Plotinus influenced you greatly; it's his concept of the One, or Good. As he writes of it, this One is the only sufficient description of the "manifestation" of a supreme principle that is above all predication and discursive understanding. That is, this Good transcends the realm of being and the world of becoming. It is "all things and no one of them. The source of all things is not all things, and yet it is all things in a transcendental sense - all things, so to speak, having run back to it, or more correctly, as not all are yet within It they will be." Also, this One is the highest of three "hypostases", the other two being Intelligence (Nous) and the Soul. It's from the productive unity of all three that all existence emanates, i.e., the universe and matter. This is reminiscent, it seems, of the Mahayana teaching of the mutual interpenetration of all things."Acquaintance with it must come rather after a long period of attendance on instruction in the subject itself and of close companionship, when suddenly, like a blaze kindled by a leaping spark, it is generated in the soul and at one becomes self-sustaining."
And it certainly juxtaposes significantly with your assertion, in retrospect, of being an acosmic pantheist, one who believes the world and the absolute are one; the change and variety of the world are apparent only, not actual. As one of your favorite reference works, Phil, the Encyclopedia Britannica, states it: "The absolute God makes up the total reality. The world is an appearance and ultimately unreal." It also mentions a "neoplatonic or emanationistic pantheism," citing Plotinus, where "the theme of immanence is sustained by positing the existence of a World-Soul that both contains and makes the world."
Now, there are those who vehemently argue that your so-called Valis trilogy is a prima facie example of your being, indeed, a gnostic or acosmic pantheist; that you are fictionally depicting, in effect, Plotinus' concept of the One (Good). I would counter that Valis is much more an exploration of knowledge, in particular the epistemological nature of various kinds of information transfer, and the effects of this on culture and human individuals. We are, after all, in the Information Overload Age. And how is one to discriminate among, let alone evaluate the efficacy of, all these bytes of information, be they from a "pink beam", radio, music, or movie?
What I find even more significant, though, is what the Britannica states about Plotinus:
Quite a stinging rebuke, I'd say. And the idea that everything that exists constitutes a unity (One), and that this all-inclusive unity is divine, is a notion with internal conceptual difficulties. I mean, what could be unitary in such an ostensible collection? What sorts of apprehension and modes of knowing in it are empirically verifiable? And isn't the contigent aspect of nature entirely omitted?"Some members of his circle of friends were Gnostics (heretical Christian dualists who emphasized esoteric salvatory knowledge), and they provoked him not only to write a vigorous attack on their beliefs but to organize a polemic campaign against them through the activities of Porphyry and Amelius....Gnosticism appeared to him to be a barbarous, melodramatic, irrational, immoral, un-Greek, and insanely arrogant superstition."
It's not at all clear to me, Phil, how Plotinus, Neo-Platonism and/or acosmic pantheism account for the fact of existence being irreducibly contingent, meaning the truth (or not) cannot be included in the description and stands in no internal conceptual relationship to the description. There is, in effect, no distinction being made between contingent casual connections and necessary logical connections. And I know you're well aware of what Hume did to causal and logical connections.
But my perception(s) of the paradoxes and enigmas in this could be mistaken, which I'm sure you'll let me know, with plenty of supporting evidence.
Yours in Kipple,