Philosophic Silence and the ‘One’ in Plotinus

Nicholas Banner, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018


Plotinus, the greatest philosopher of Late Antiquity, discusses at length a first principle of reality – the One – which, he tells us, cannot be expressed in words or grasped in thought. How and why, then, does Plotinus write about it at all? This book explores this act of writing the unwritable. Seeking to explain what seems to be an insoluble paradox in the very practice of late Platonist writing, it examines not only the philosophical concerns involved, but the cultural and rhetorical aspects of the question. The discussion outlines an ancient practice of ‛philosophical silence’ which determined the themes and tropes of public secrecy appropriate to Late Platonist philosophy. Through philosophic silence, public secrecy and silence flow into one another, and the unsaid space of the text becomes an initiatory secret. Understanding this mode of discourse allows us to resolve many apparent contradictions in Plotinus’ thought.

(Text from the publisher)

Table of contents

Introduction pp 1-16

PART I – The Cultural Roots of Platonist Philosophic Silence pp 17-18

1 – De philosophorum Græcorum silentio mystico: Preliminaries pp 19-40

2 – The Silent Philosopher pp 41-85

3 – Perennial Wisdom and Platonist Tradition pp 86-124

4 – Plotinus and ‘The Ancients’: Tradition, Truth and Transcendence pp 125-144

PART II – The Transcendent Absolute, the Ineffable and Plotinian Poetics of Transcendence pp 145-146

5 – The Development of the Transcendent Absolute in the Middle Platonist Milieu pp 147-175

6 – The Transcendent Absolute and the Ineffability of Reality in Plotinus pp 176-210

7 – The Poetics of Transcendence in Plotinus pp 211-240

Conclusion pp 241-250

Appendices pp 251-252

Appendix A – The Plotinian Idea of Tradition and ‘Platonism’ pp 253-256

Appendix B – Esoteric Hermeneutics, Plato and Aristotle in Plotinus pp 257-260

Appendix C – Some Useful Notes on Plotinian Metaphysics pp 261-265

Appendix D – Modern Theories of Philosophic Silence pp 266-273

Select Primary Bibliography pp 274-275

Secondary Bibliography pp 276-295

Index pp 296-299



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