Intelligible Kinds and Natural Kinds in Plotinus
- 1 2.3  18, 16-22 ; 2.9  4 ; 3.2  3 ; 3.8  11, 29-33 ; 5.8  7-8.
- 2 2.9  4,25-6 ; 2.9  8 ; 3.2  2, 8-12 ; 3.7  11, 27-9 ; 5.8  12, 20-26 ; 6.3  (...)
- 3 For animals, see 31a4-5 and 39e-40a ; elements 51bff. (and cf. 39e-40a along with the Soph. 266b). (...)
- 4 Parm. 130c1-4.
- 5 2.9  6, 17 ; 3.9  1, 1ff. ; 5.9  9, 8 ; 6.2  21, 56-58 ; 6.2  22, 39 ; 6.6  (...)
- 6 4.8  1, 48-50 ; 5.8  3, 32-33 ; 6.6  7, 15-19 ; 6.6  8, 1-3 ; 6.6  15, 1-12 ; 6. (...)
- 7 See Proclus, In Parm. 888, 11-38 ; Alcinous, Didask. 9.2 ; H. Dörrie - M. Baltes, Der Platonismus i (...)
1Plotinus repeatedly emphasizes that the sensible world is the best possible world.1 This is supposed to follow from his etiological account of the world’s perpetual generation: As the automatic product of higher principles,2 the sensible world is simply another instantiation of intelligible principles, albeit embedded at a lower level in matter. This is meant to apply above all to the biological activity of nature, as each kind of living thing in the sensible world is supposed by Plotinus to correspond to some Form in the intelligible world. This deserves some emphasis in light of the controversy surrounding the scope of Plato’s theory of Forms since antiquity, a controversy that ultimately goes back to the mixed messages contained in the dialogues. For while the Timaeus straightforwardly employs Forms as paradigmatic causes of substances in the sensible world that arise naturally, which are explicitly said to include the heavenly bodies, animals, and the four elements3 – in the Parmenides we encounter Socrates voicing his uncertainty on the issue of whether there are Forms of kinds such as human being and fire.4 Plotinus takes his cue from the Timaeus and describes the intelligible world as ‘the (perfect) Living Thing’5 that contains Forms of ‘all’ the living things that one can find in the sensible world,6 and in doing so is subscribing to what appears to have become a more or less orthodox position among Middle and Neo-Platonists on there being Forms for all kinds of animals and plants – a position whose instigator is usually taken to be Xenocrates.7
2Yet positing Forms for all kinds of living things is certainly only a first step in the explanation of biological generation. Two major tasks remain. First, the scope and boundaries of the notion of kinds must be well defined. That is to say, we must determine which things count as kinds and how much detail each of them contains. Second, some account must be given of all the details that emerge in biological generations that are not contained in these Forms. It is the answers to these questions that will determine just how extensive and successful the impact of the intelligible world on the sensible world really is.
- 8 In 5.7  2, 15-17 τὸ αἴσχος and in 4.4  38, 19-22 ἡ αἰσχρότης and τι ἐλλεῖπον πρὸς τὸ βέλτιο (...)
- 9 5.9  14, 10-11 and 2.3  16, 51.
3Here it looks as if Plotinus’ optimism regarding the sensible world takes a pessimistic turn. For he describes a number of features of the sensible world as ‘ugly’, ‘inferior’ or ‘deficient,’ and he systematically attributes these features to the influence of matter.8 Indeed, at times he even goes so far as to say that such features are ‘taken from matter.’9 Plotinus’ teratology offers an obvious case in point:
- 10 2.3  14, 29-33 (Armstrong, slightly revised).
“The child is either formed according to a logos, when there is no hindrance, or it is in a worse state when some obstacle has occurred within, either due to the mother herself or because the environment is so disposed as to be out of harmony with this particular birth.”10
- 11 5.9  10, 1-6.
“However many things exist as forms in the sensible world, these are from the intelligible world. However many do not, aren’t. Therefore, none of the things that are contrary to nature are in the intelligible world, just as none of the things that go against art are in arts. Nor again is there any lameness (χωλεία) in seeds. Congenital lameness of the feet (ποδῶν χωλεία ἡ ἐν τῇ γενέσει) occurs when the logos has not dominated [the matter], while the lameness that comes from a chance event is a corruption (λύµῃ) of the form.”11
- 12 The matter is often described by later Platonists as lacking the ‘suitability’ to receive the princ (...)
- 13 cf. Porphyry, Ad Gaurum 14.3.
- 14 Plotinus only refers to the menstrual fluid explicitly in two passages, 5.8  2, 6-7 and 2.9 [33 (...)
4In these two passages that virtually stretch from Plotinus’ earliest to his latest writings we can witness the continuity of his teratology: terata are produced when formal principles (logoi) fail to dominate the matter, that is, when the material factors obstruct the creative activity of these principles in some way.12 It should be emphasized that it is not so-called prime matter that is responsible for the obstruction. The ‘obstacles’ are said to come from the mother or the environment,13 which shows that proximate matter is at issue here, presumably the menstrual fluid in all of its formal complexity (which would include outside influences of, e.g., a meteorological or astrological nature).14 In other words, what is described in the above passages as an opposition between form principles and matter could be truthfully redescribed as a conflict among form principles, namely between those that are already dominating the matter and those that are attempting to dominate it anew.
- 15 E.g., Alexander, in Meta. 1.178, 25-26 ; Eustratius, In Aristotelis analyticorum posteriorum librum (...)
- 16 Aristotle, Phys. 197b14ff.
- 17 Condition (i) is met because biological generation is usually a process guided by a formal and fina (...)
- 18 In what follows, then, I shall refer to cases of life-forms being generated from decaying matter as (...)
- 19 He is, however, capable of using the expression ‘spontaneously’ (ἐκ τοῦ αὐτοµάτου) in this sense, s (...)
- 20 For a more in-depth discussion of these points, see Wilberding “Neoplatonists on ‘Spontaneous’ Gene (...)
5Nevertheless, what results – in our example, congenital lameness of the feet – does not correspond to any form-principle, and for this reason Neoplatonists often describe terata as being generated ‘spontaneously.’15 As spontaneous generation comes up in several contexts in what follows, it should be stressed here that the Neoplatonists employ the label ‘spontaneous’ in a different sense than that which one encounters in Aristotle. Indeed, it seems to have nearly the exact opposite meaning. According to Aristotle’s definition in Physics II.6 a process P is ‘spontaneous’ only if it meets three conditions: (i) processes of P’s type are mostly goal-directed, (ii) P itself is not goal-directed, and (iii) P has an external cause.16 In the domain of biology, spontaneous generations of living things occur, briefly, when material factors come together in the absence of a teleological formal principle in such a way that some form of life results anyway.17 Thus, later Platonists are in agreement with Aristotle up to a point, since both parties would say that spontaneous generation is due to material factors, but the agreement ends there. For Aristotle sees these factors as making a surprising positive, end-like contribution to the world, but the Platonists see them as simply frustrating the natural formal principles that are at work in the world. It follows that the label is applied to very different cases by each school. Although Neoplatonists agree with Aristotle about the phenomenon of, e.g., certain life-forms springing from decaying corpses and plants, this is not a case of spontaneous generation for them because they disagree with Aristotle about the etiology. For the Neoplatonists, in strong contrast to Aristotle, even in such cases a soul is responsible for the creation and so they prefer the label ‘generation from putrefaction’ or ‘generation of what is unlike’ to describe these cases. It is when something unnatural and worse, not better, results that we have a case of Neoplatonic spontaneous generation, as in the case of terata.18 In the two passages above Plotinus prefers the label ‘contrary to nature’ (παρὰ φύσιν) to ‘spontaneous’,19 but functionally these labels are equivalent, since a nature consists of a structured set of form principles and opposing nature is tantamount to obstructing these form principles.20
- 21 Parm. 130c5-d3. This is reinforced by Plato at Soph. 249a (and cf. Aristotle Meta. 1074b17-18), whe (...)
- 22 To my knowledge Plotinus nowhere uses any direct Greek equivalent of ‘natural kind’, but we are sti (...)
6Teratology thus forces Plotinus and other Platonists to confront another aspect of the controversy surrounding the scope of the theory of Forms. For one of the questions asked of the young Socrates in Plato’s Parmenides is whether there is a Form corresponding to ‘any of the most ignoble and trivial things’ (τι ἀτιµότατόν τε καὶ φαυλότατον), and Socrates responds confidently that there is not.21 Although the examples that Parmenides offers of this category include only hair, mud and dirt, the general thrust of the question, as we shall see, casts serious doubt in Plotinus’ mind on the supposition that there could be Forms of anything – including living things – that was deemed to lack the dignity appropriate to the intelligible world. This obviously has implications for his responses to the two questions posed above regarding which things are to be counted as genuine kinds and how much detail is contained in these kinds. Yet this commitment to protect the dignity of the intelligible world is certainly at odds with his commitment to defend the overall intelligibility of the sensible world. There are three areas in particular where this tension comes to the fore: accounting for (i) the parts of living things, (ii) the physical features that are constitutive of the phenotypes of individuals, and (iii) entire kinds of living things that might strike one as ignoble. In each of these cases Plotinus seeks to accommodate both the dignity of the intelligible world and the overall intelligibility of the sensible world, and as I shall argue, he succeeds in this project by distinguishing between what I shall call intelligible kinds and natural kinds, even if some questions about natural kinds remain unanswered.22
7The reference to hair in the Parmenides passage prompts two kinds of questions about the existence of Forms of parts of living things. First, there is the general question of whether additional Forms are required for parts whose wholes already correspond to Forms. In addition the specific example of hair draws attention to a difficulty that follows from positing Forms for any parts of living things. For to accept Forms for parts such as eyes and hands would seem to commit one to also accepting Forms of less venerable parts such as hair and even bile.
8Looking ahead in the Platonic tradition allows us to see Proclus giving a clear response to the first question in his commentary on Plato’s Parmenides:
- 23 Proclus, in Parm. 825, 36 – 826, 16 (Morrow/Dillon translation). On this passage, see M. Baltes, De (...)
“As for the parts of animals, shall we say that there are also Ideas of them, so as to make a paradigm not only of man but also of the finger, the eye, and every other part ? Since in general each of them is clearly a substance, let us admit that they exist by virtue of a cause, but since they are parts, not wholes, they are inferior to indivisible intellectual being […] Perhaps, then, it would be correct to say that of all such things as are parts, there are no intellectual causes (νοερὰ αἴτια) […] but only psychic and natural causes, for division takes place first in souls, next in natures. Here then, in souls at least, there is a reason-principle or form of finger, tooth, and every other part.”23
- 24 See ET §65 and d’Hoine, p. 164, and in general D. Baltzly, “Mereological Modes of Being in Proclus” (...)
- 25 For a fuller discussion of logoi in Neoplatonism see L. Brisson, “Logos et logoi chez Plotin. Leur (...)
9For Proclus, then, there is no Form of Hand, but there is a Form of Human Being that contains information about hands. As he argues, not only are Forms of parts unnecessary, but they are incompatible with the character of the intelligible realm, which is essentially whole and indivisible. Thus, it wouldn’t be quite right to say that the Form of Human Being contains hands as parts, as that would compromise the unity and wholeness of the Forms, but we might say with Proclus that it is contained there in a causal manner.24 In other words Proclus accounts for the basic intelligibility of parts while preserving the integrity of the intelligible world by distinguishing between intelligible Forms and the formal principles (logoi) that derive from those Forms. This distinction follows straightforwardly from the Platonic theory of procession: Just as the Soul derives from Intellect, so too do the Soul’s contents – these formal principles (logoi) – derive from the contents of Intellect, that is, from the Forms, and so too for Nature, which will possess its own logoi deriving from the Soul.25 Thus, as the Form of Human being is passed onto lower ontological levels, parts such as eyes emerge as independent formal principles and are present as such in the natures that are responsible for creating the bodies of men and horses, but there is no independent Form of Eye in which both men and horses jointly participate.
- 26 Syrianus, in Meta. 8, 17-20 and 107, 14-18, on which see M. Baltes, Der Platonismus in der Antike, (...)
- 27 E.g., 3.8  4 ; 5.1  6 ; 2.3  17, 18-21.
- 28 Cf. τὰ τίµια 6.7  9, 1 ; τὸ τίµιον 9, 3 and 4 ; ἀτιµάσαι 11, 2 ; τὰ εὐτελῆ 9, 2 ; τὸ εὐτελές 9, (...)
10As Syrianus, who subscribes to the same account as described here, appears to point out, the basic approach to this problem is one that can already be found in Plotinus,26 who also stresses that the logoi in natures are derived from the intelligible Forms but differ from them in important ways.27 In 6.7  this doctrine accounts for the intelligible heritage of organic parts, but unlike Proclus, who seems content with the blanket statement that there are form principles for all parts, Plotinus directs his attention more specifically to those parts that might be considered trivial or ignoble. Indeed, the terminology of 6.7  suggests that the Parmenidean problem of Forms of ignoble things is in the forefront of his mind,28 and the parts he singles out for discussion would appear to be of the same value and importance as the Parmenides’ example of hair: nails, claws, sharp teeth and horns.
- 29 Cf. Tim. 76d-e.
- 30 6.7  9, 38-46.
“For the powers [of the intelligible Forms], as they unfold, always leave [something] behind at the higher level. But as they advance they lose something, and by losing this, different powers discover and add on different things, on account of the need of the living thing that appears following from this loss. For example, when there is no longer the sufficient [means] for life, there springs up a claw, or crooked talons, or sharp teeth, or the nature of horn.29 Thus, where the [particular] intellect goes down, there it also in turn by the self-sufficiency of its nature lifts its head up and discovers in itself a cure at hand for its deficiency.”30
- 31 6.7  9, 45-46.
- 32 6.7  7, 1-5.
- 33 6.7  9, 34-35.
- 34 6.7  9, 45.
- 35 See D’Ancona-Costa, “Separation and the Forms. A Plotinian Approach”, American Catholic Philosophic (...)
11Here Plotinus is developing the account that we saw Proclus and Syrianus inheriting. In order for a Form to be instantiated in the sensible world, it must be projected down from Intellect to the level of the soul responsible for shaping our world, which is the level of nature, and it is only at this level that formal principles for inferior parts such as teeth and claws emerge. But Plotinus offers a fuller explanation than Proclus did, one that has to do with the activity and quality of life. At the level of Intellect each Form’s life consists solely in contemplation, and so a Form has no need for such parts. As the Form’s projection descends, however, it loses its claim to this kind of life and must search for another, and these worse parts are needed to sustain this new kind of life. The central point of the 6.7  9 passage is its claim about these parts being already contained in the Form.31 This claim allows Plotinus to distinguish between being worse (χεῖρον) or inferior (ἔλαττον) on the one hand and being unnatural (παρὰ φύσιν) on the other, as such parts are worse, since they are instantiated only at a lower ontological level, but they are not unnatural, on account of the fact that they are indeed contained in the Form somehow.32 The argument behind this claim is that if they were not there in any way at all, the Form would lack self-sufficiency, in the sense that it would not possess a life that is sustainable at every ontological level that it is projected into. But as Plotinus emphasizes both here and elsewhere the parts are only ‘present’ in the intelligible Form itself in some potential manner.33 They have to be ‘discovered’ upon its descent.34 In other words, none of the features that we associate with horses and hold responsible for their ignoble reputation properly belong to the Form of Horse. The Forms are giving features that they themselves do not have.35
12The conclusions of 6.7 , however, need to be checked against Plotinus’ remarks in the final three chapters of the late treatise 2.3  On Whether the Stars are Causes, in which he revisits the topic of inferior things in the sensible world. There is one difficult passage at the end of chapter 16 in particular where Plotinus at least appears to suggest that some inferior parts of living things do not derive from intelligible principles.
- 36 2.3  16, 46-52. In this case the obscurity of the passage warrants the reproduction of the Gree (...)
“For this is also how things stand with particular living things. The logos forms and compels the better things to exist, but whatever is not such lies potentially in the logoi but actually among the things that come to be. And soul no longer needs to create or stir up its logoi since matter is already making the things that derive from it, i.e., the worse things, by virtue of the shaking that results from the preferred logoi, and yet matter is nonetheless mastered for the better.”36
- 37 I would like to thank Christoph Helmig for urging me to consider the former interpretation as well (...)
- 38 2.3  16, 42-46.
13The initial reference to particular living things makes clear that this passage is not concerned with the issue of ignoble kinds of living things, and although it is difficult to say definitively whether this passage is describing the generation of worse particular living things (as opposed to better particulars) or whether it is on the contrary about the worse parts of a particular living thing (as opposed to its better parts), the latter suggestion seems more likely.37 In the former case this passage would basically be giving us Plotinus’ teratology, and indeed many details here would speak for this interpretation, in particular that the worse things are said to be derived from matter rather than from logoi. The remark at the end would then mean that with terata matter has been mastered for the better in the sense that the logoi produced the best offspring possible, given the material obstructions. The main problem with this interpretation is that it does not seem to fit the context well. Just prior to this passage, Plotinus addresses the issue of inferiority in the sensible world by appealing to the contribution (συνεργόν) that inferior things make to the whole,38 and this passage is supposed to support this appeal by providing a case that is analogous to but clearer than the cosmic case. Yet Plotinus hardly could have thought it clear that terata make such a positive contribution.
- 39 6.7  7, 1-5 ; 2.3  16, 41-43.
- 40 Compare especially δυνάµει κεῖται ἐν τοῖς λόγοις, ἐνεργείᾳ δὲ ἐν τοῖς γενοµένοις (2.3  16, 48-4 (...)
- 41 The term φύσις does occur in ll. 44-45 but has a different sense, as Armstrong’s translation brings (...)
- 42 6.8  9, 44-46.
14Thus, it seems more likely that Plotinus has parts in mind here, since inferior parts make an obvious contribution to the whole, but here again there would seem to be a problem. For what we saw above in our examination of 6.7  was that Plotinus had concluded that even inferior parts derive from intelligible principles, even if they do not strictly correspond to intelligible Forms in the Intellect, and that would seem to be at odds with his claim here that they are produced by matter. There need not, however, be any real disagreement between the two accounts, as Plotinus might just be expressing the same account in a different way. For there are two very strong parallels between the passages. In both accounts he applies the distinction between inferiority and unnaturalness,39 and he also says that the inferior bits lie potentially in higher principles.40 What differs is his description of the actualization of these parts, but this is due only to a difference in perspective. In 6.7  9, 34 – 46 the actualization is described entirely from the perspective of a Form extending and unfolding down into the sensible world. Not only does Plotinus not mention matter here, he does not even bring in Soul or Nature.41 Rather, it is an ‘intellect,’ i.e., the Form itself that is said to discover these inferior parts inside itself.42 But a fuller account would certainly involve saying that the contents of the Form are being transmitted to Soul and then to Nature, which is acting in matter, and such a fuller account could easily include a statement to the effect that matter itself is responsible in some sense for this unfolding, since it is matter that demands extension and thus prevents parts from co-existing in the same place at the same time, as they can do at higher ontological levels, and the reference to ‘shaking’ might simply refer to this sifting of a Form into its extended instantiation.
15Nevertheless, this does not seem to quite capture the entire significance of the passage, since if the shaking is to be understood as the materialization of intelligible principles, then all parts should equally result from the shaking and not just the inferior ones. Plotinus seems instead to be making the striking claim here that some parts correspond to ‘preferred’ natural logoi with other parts simply resulting as by-products without corresponding to any logoi of their own – even at the level of nature.
- 43 2.3  12, 12-32 has been put in brackets by H-S and Armstrong, on the grounds that it does not s (...)
- 44 2.3  17, 23-24 and 18, 4. Both passages are discussed below.
- 45 See, e.g., Aristotle, PA 677a11-15 ; [Alexander], Problemata 4.16 ; Galen, De atra bile 5.112, 5-6 (...)
- 46 See Tim. 82e-83e and 86e-87a. Plato forges a strong association between bile and disease, but since (...)
- 47 Tim. 71b-d.
- 48 PA 676b22-25.
- 49 PA 677a15-18. Aristotle does, however, concede that in some cases nature is able to make use of res (...)
16Although a certain amount of speculation is unavoidable here, an example that Plotinus introduced earlier in the treatise might well indicate the direction of his thinking. For in 2.3  12, 24-2943 Plotinus chooses the sole example of bile to illustrate his claim that all parts – even the least reputable – contribute something to the whole, in this case by serving the function of stirring up the thumos, and as I shall argue below, there appear to be two more references to bile in the following two chapters.44 This example of a residue seems to fit the details of this passage rather well. For bile is a derivative substance, being often characterized as a ‘sediment’ (ὑποστάθµη or ὑπόστασις) or ‘secretion’ (περίττωµα) of other substances such as blood.45 Moreover, this derivative status led to a significant disagreement between Plato and Aristotle on the purposefulness of bile, that is, on the possibility of bile being part of an intelligent plan. In the Timaeus Plato underlines the traditional association between bile and unpleasant bitterness,46 but ultimately finds a place for it in his teleological anthropology by proposing an account in which bile does make a contribution to the whole: by manipulating the bitter bile, reason is able to exert influence over the appetitive part of the soul.47 Aristotle explicitly opposes the Platonic theory in his On the Parts of Animals,48 and concludes forcefully that residues are the mere products of necessity and have no final causes.49 Thus, having already introduced bile and explained its contribution to the whole, Plotinus is now able to bring home the point that even derivative bodily substances that would seem to be mere by-products are in fact ‘mastered for the better.’
17This brief look at the relationship between parts of living things and Forms of living things suggests that there is a sensible distinction to be made between intelligible kinds and natural kinds that will allow us to understand and discuss Plotinus’ ontology more clearly. Let us define an intelligible kind as one to which there corresponds an intelligible Form at the level of Intellect, and a natural kind as one to which there corresponds a formal principle at the level of Nature. From what we have seen so far, we can say that intelligible kinds include things such as human being and horse but not parts such as feet and horns, though the latter should still be counted as natural kinds. Moreover, since only those parts that correspond to logoi at the level of Nature are to count as natural kinds, we can also say that a lame foot is not a natural kind. Instead, it is an unnatural corruption of a proper natural kind. Bile seems to be described as something in between. Although it is not explicitly said to correspond to its own logos in nature, it is admitted to be a natural substance that makes a contribution to the whole and is contained potentially in the natural logoi of the ‘preferred’ parts. This suggests that bile might indeed correspond to some logos, albeit one ranked well below the ‘preferred’ logoi in nature.
18As I shall show in the next two sections, this notion of natural kind can be further articulated and developed into a useful category for discussing the natural world by looking at Plotinus’ remarks about individuals and ignoble living things.
19The principle lesson to be learned from Plotinus’ discussion of the formal principles of individuals is that, firstly, these logoi at the level of Nature corresponding to parts are much more specific than the above discussion would initially suggest, and that, secondly, logoi at this level should be seen as corresponding not only to parts but also to wholes.
- 50 A.H. Armstrong, “Form, Individual and Person in Plotinus”, Dionysius 1, 1977, p. 49-68 ; Blumenthal (...)
- 51 For a discussion of some of the evidence surrounding this issue, see M. Baltes, Der Platonismus in (...)
- 52 That the logoi at issue in 5.7  are the logoi of a nature is clear from Plotinus’ description o (...)
20Plotinus’ views on the existence of Forms of individuals have formed the object of a number of studies arriving at strikingly different conclusions,50 and he is most often characterized as having accepted such Forms – at least at some point in his career – in contradistinction to the philosophers who both preceded and followed him in the Platonic tradition who resoundingly rejected them.51 Yet his considered position might not be all that different from the rest of the Platonic tradition. In Ennead 5.7  On Whether There are Ideas of Particulars he does indeed advance a theory of forms of individuals, but these are best not understood as intelligible Forms residing in the Intellect on a par with the Forms of Human Being and Beauty. He is operating for the most part in this treatise at the level of nature, and so the forms that correspond to individuals would also seem to belong to this level.52 We might say that they are natural kinds as opposed to intelligible kinds.
- 53 5.7  2, 13-14.
- 54 “This variety is an ubiquitous beauty,” as Plotinus says (5.7  2, 14-15).
- 55 5.7  2, 15-16.
21Ennead 5.7  takes a particularly dialectical approach to its investigation, which complicates any detailed exegesis of the treatise, yet there are several central points that do emerge clearly from the discussion. In chapters 2-3 Plotinus is primarily interested in establishing the degree to which the physiological differences in individual humans (but also animals) are due to formal principles as opposed to matter, and he makes very clear that these differences cannot be all due to matter, since in that case “all [offspring of a species] but one would be contrary to nature.”53 Thus, the variety of phenotypes in a single species for the most part must simply be due to different expressions of the same original intelligible principle.54 Nevertheless, not all physiological differences are due to formal principles. Whatever can be characterized as ‘ugliness’ is due to matter, namely when the matter refuses to be completely formed according to the formal principles, as we saw above was the case with terata.55
- 56 5.7  2, 7-12. The mechanics here are unclear. Plotinus speaks of ‘mixture’ (5.7  2,1) of th (...)
22Although Plotinus does not articulate precisely where the line between the various particular features deriving from formal principles and those due to matter is to be drawn, he does give some indications. Chapters 2 and 3 have an embryological focus on the issues surrounding parental resemblance, and Plotinus appears ultimately to advance the view that each parent supplies a copy of the logoi characteristic of his or her own phenotype’s parts, with the phenotype of the offspring resulting, part by part, depending on which parent’s logos succeeds in forming the matter.56 This appeal to embryology makes clear that the natural logoi corresponding to the parts here must be more specific than simply ‘hand’ or ‘eye’ if they are to account for family resemblances. For if both the mother and the father possessed only logoi corresponding to generic parts, Plotinus’ concern about which logos ultimately dominates the matter would make no sense at all. This points to the reasonable conclusion that there are natural logoi corresponding to whichever features one is inclined to characterize as inheritable. Which features Plotinus thinks are inheritable must remain to some extent an open question, but a bit more detail can be added by bringing in a passage from 5.9  12, 4-12 where Plotinus accepts that there are different logoi accounting for aquiline and snub noses, but that different kinds of aquiline noses are then due to matter.
- 57 5.7  2, 11-12.
23Moreover, the discussion in 5.7  makes clear that there are natural logoi corresponding not only to such specific parts but also to wholes. The idea here seems to be that just as the specific parts of an individual each correspond to a natural logos, so too does the whole individual correspond to a natural logos, which amounts to the (organized) bundle of the logoi of its parts. Corresponding to Socrates, for example, there is an organized bundle of logoi, including those of snub nose and bulging eyes. This is why Plotinus speaks of each parent providing its ‘whole’ logos to the offspring, even though only parts of this logos will succeed in dominating the matter,57 and this natural logos of a whole is what Plotinus ultimately believes answers to the description of a form of an individual.
- 58 Theaet. 143e.
- 59 5.7  3, 1ff., esp. 12-13, where the Stoic notion of ἰδίως ποιόν is surely in the background.
- 60 In 5.7  3 Plotinus appears to accept an even higher degree of correspondence between physical f (...)
24This description of the natural logos raises questions about the appropriateness of referring to it as a natural kind. For kinds are supposed to differ from particulars by virtue of their universality and the fact that they are – or at least could be – instantiated by more than one individual in the world. This is surely the case with the natural logoi corresponding to parts, e.g., the logoi of snub nose and bulging eyes are instantiated not only by Socrates but also by Theaetetus,58 but it would seem not to be the case with the logoi corresponding to the wholes, if, as seems to be the case, Plotinus does indeed ultimately conclude that each such logos maps onto exactly one sensible individual in the world.59 Nevertheless, there are good reasons for not denying the logos corresponding to an individual’s body the status of a natural kind, since this logos is distinct from the three entities that are most readily associated with the individual in Plotinus’ metaphysics. There is, firstly, an important distinction to be made between a concrete particular body and the most specific formal blueprint of that concrete particular body. The blueprint, regardless of its level of specificity, represents qua blueprint a kind that could be instantiated more than once, even if there is de facto only one bodily instantiation of it in the world. Moreover, Plotinus’ remarks on the variations of snub nose that are due to matter suggest that minor formal variations on the logos of a whole, too, will occur in the concrete body.60 Nor is, secondly, this logos to be identified with the individual per se, which for Plotinus is the individual soul that descends into the body conforming to this logos. It follows that this logos could hardly be identified with the composite consisting of the individual soul in the concrete body. It makes sense, therefore, to differentiate between (i) the natural kind Socrates, i.e., that organized bundle of natural logoi that is instantiated only by Socrates’ body, (ii) the concrete body that instantiates this natural kind, (iii) the individual Socrates, i.e., the individual soul that descends into our world to take up and animate this body, and (iv) the composite consisting of (ii) and (iii).
25This distinction becomes particularly important when we factor in Plotinus’ apparent acceptance of transmigration and the doctrine of world-periods. In 5.7  he emphasizes that the one-to-one mapping relation between these natural logoi of wholes and individuals is restricted to a single world-period, which means that there will indeed be many instantiations of each such logos, but they will be spread out over consecutive world-periods. We might say that these logoi represent the maximally specific formal descriptions of the bodies that an individual soul can take up on earth during one of these world-periods, and as formal descriptions that are embedded in Nature they qualify as natural kinds, whereas the concrete body, the individual soul, and the composite do not.
26As a preliminary conclusion we can now say that Plotinus’ ontology does include a notion of natural kinds, though it is different from what we associate with the term today. For Plotinus whatever is represented by a logos at the level of Nature qualifies as a natural kind, and as we have seen this includes both wholes and parts in much (but not all) of the detail they exhibit in the sensible world. Moreover, we have seen that each natural kind, while not corresponding to its own individual intelligible Form, does derive from some intelligible Form, e.g., both the logos of the part snub-nose and the logos of the whole Socrates (in the sense of (i) above) derive from the intelligible Form of Human Being. In this way the notion of natural kinds allows Plotinus to ascribe a significant amount of the detail to the influence of intelligible principles on the sensible world without compromising the dignity of the intelligible world. It remains to be seen whether Plotinus uses this same approach to explain the existence of ignoble living things in the sensible world.
27The disgust evoked by a certain class of living things and the consequent unwillingness to attribute these things to divine principles is well illustrated by Galen’s reaction to the suggestion by one of his Platonist teachers that the divine World-Soul could itself be directly responsible for the generation of all creatures in the sensible world:
- 61 Galen, de foet. form. 104, 25 – 106, 1 Nickel ( = 4.700, 17 – 701, 6 Kühn).
“Although I thought that the craftsmanship and power involved was worthy of the World-Soul, I could not bring myself to think that scorpions, spiders, flies and mosquitoes, vipers and worms, including tape worms and intestinal worms were formed by the World-Soul, assuming such a view would come close to blasphemy.”61
- 62 The classic Platonic passage the benefit that vegetation is supposed to bring to humanity is Tim. 7 (...)
28It deserves some emphasis that Galen’s concern here is not directed at the living things occupying the bottom of the so-called scala naturae, since in that case his main examples would at least include vegetation and minerals. One suspects that he is troubled by the class of creatures that might appear to lie outside of the scala naturae to the extent that they, far from making a positive contribution like vegetation,62 seem to be even parasitic on or in some other way detrimental to human life. As we shall see, this is also one of Plotinus’ main concerns.
29We can witness Plotinus having similar reservations about certain kinds of living things throughout his writing career, with key positions and arguments being advanced in 5.9 , 6.7  and 2.3 . Above we saw Plotinus in the very early 5.9  exhibiting signs of both optimism and pessimism regarding the impact of intelligible causes on sensible living things. On the one hand he is prepared to accept that even specific features such as the snubness of a nose is due to a logos, but on the other hand he does draw a line and deny that there are intelligible principles for terata. In this same treatise he also addresses the issue of ignoble creatures, and it is his pessimistic side that seems to assert itself:
- 63 5.9  14, 6-11 and 15-17 (Armstrong’s translation slightly revised).
“But about the creatures which originate from putrefaction and savage beasts, whether there is a Form of them in the intelligible, and if there is one of dirt and mud, we must say that all things which Intellect gets from the First are the best ; and among these Forms there are not the things we have just mentioned ; nor does Intellect take them from these Forms, but Soul which derives from Intellect takes other things, including these, from matter […] and the products of putrefaction occur, perhaps, because the soul was unable to produce anything else ; if it had been it would have produced something natural ; it does so, at any rate, wherever it can.”63
- 64 ῥύπου καὶ πηλοῦ (5.9  14, 8). Cf. πηλὸς καὶ ρύπος (Parm. 130c6).
- 65 ἀτιµότατόν τε καὶ φαυλότατον, Parm. 130c6-7.
- 66 Themistius’ examples of χαλεπὰ ζῷα include bears, lions and wild boars (Περὶ φιλανθρωπίας ἢ Κωνστάν (...)
- 67 The generation from putrefaction gives rise to a number of questions that cannot be pursued here, a (...)
30Here Plotinus is clearly engaged with the discussion of the scope of the Forms in Plato’s Parmenides, as his categorical denial of Forms for ‘dirt and mud’ makes clear.64 Dirt and mud, we recall, were representatives of the class of things that Plato has Parmenides characterize as ‘most trivial and ignoble,’65 and even though Plato himself did not include any examples of living things in this category, Plotinus does: the so-called ‘spontaneously’ generated creatures along with the savage (τῶν χαλεπῶν) living things.66 These two categories overlap to some extent, as most if not all of Galen’s examples were not only harmful to humans but also thought to be generated from putrefaction.67
- 68 These remarks about obstruction and unnaturalness, however, are explicitly made only about ‘spontan (...)
31Plotinus sets up a straightforward opposition here between a form of a living thing deriving from Intellect (παρὰ νοῦ) versus its deriving from matter (παρὰ ὕλης). The former case would seem to obtain when there is an intelligible Form corresponding to that living thing in the Intellect, and he makes very clear that he does not think that this is the case with these creatures. Rather, they are all said to arise because soul ‘takes [them] from matter’ (λαβοῦσα παρὰ ὕλης), which seems to approach his teratology by making the matter responsible for the outcome. This impression is then reinforced by Plotinus’ final remarks on ‘spontaneously’ generated creatures being unnatural and resulting from something’s obstructing the soul’s activity. It would seem, then, that in this early treatise, at least, Plotinus does indeed wish to characterize all of these creatures as veritable terata – unnatural products are due to matter’s obstruction – and that he is consequently denying that there are logoi of these creatures even at the level of Nature.68
- 69 ἕκαστον τῶν ζῷων (6.7  8, 2). See also ζῷα ξύµπαντα, ὅσα πεζὰ καὶ χερσαῖα λέγεται ἐνταῦθα (12, (...)
- 70 6.7  9, 20-22 (where I am assuming that θεοί at l. 21 is meant to include the δαίµονας of 6, 26 (...)
- 71 θήρειον σῶµα 6.7  6, 22 ; τὴν θήρειον φύσιν 6, 34 and 7, 2.
- 72 Plotinus’ main example of beast : 6.7  7, 3 ; 8, 1ff. ; 9, 24 and 36.
- 73 6.7  7, 2.
- 74 6.7  7, 5.
- 75 6.7  12, 8-9.
- 76 6.7  12, 11.
- 77 6.7  11, 6ff. ; 12, 9.
- 78 The elements also qualify as living things for Plotinus. Fire is first mentioned at 6.7  6, 6 a (...)
- 79 See above, esp. note 33.
32As we have already seen in our examination of parts, in 6.7  Plotinus proposes an important distinction between what is merely inferior and what is actually unnatural, with which he is then able to develop an account that allows for formal principles of inferior parts to exist at the level of Nature without them strictly corresponding to their own intelligible Forms. In this treatise Plotinus also addresses the issue of Forms of inferior living things, and these same considerations are at work here too and result in what is ultimately a very comprehensive world of Forms that encompasses ‘all of the living things.’69 At one point he offers a simple taxonomy dividing the intelligible Forms into those of gods and daimôns, human beings (rational living things), and the non-rational living things,70 with the last category specifically said to include ‘beasts’71 – and his specific examples here are horses,72 oxen73 and dogs,74 though his references to ‘all of the animals that walk on and belong to the land’75 and ‘all of the animals in the water’76 makes the intended inclusiveness clear – plants77 and the elements.78 Since, as we saw above, the ignoble features that characterize these creatures belong to their corresponding Forms only in some heavily qualified, potential sense, there can be intelligible Forms of these creatures without compromising the dignity of the Intellect. For again, all Forms are identical in the Intellect and only distinguish themselves at lower ontological levels.79
- 80 6.7  10, 5-6 and 12, 2-4. Cf. Plato, Tim. 31a3-4.
33It would seem, then, that Plotinus is displaying a radically different attitude to the lesser animals here compared to what we saw in the earlier 5.9 . Whereas there such creatures were said to be drawn from matter as opposed to the intelligible world, here he stresses their intelligible heritage in order to accommodate some form of the Platonic principle of plenitude, by which the completeness and perfection of the intelligible world depends upon all things being contained there,80 though it is worth noting that Plotinus’ application of this principle runs in the opposite direction to Plato’s. For while Plato takes it as given that there are certain intelligible kinds of living thing and uses this principle to argue that all of these kinds must also be present in the sensible world, Plotinus here appears to take it as a given which things are to count as kinds of living thing in the sensible world, and concludes that these things must also be present in the intelligible world as Forms.
34Once again, however, these conclusions must be checked against a passage in the late 2.3 , in which Plotinus appears to suggest that some kinds of living thing do not derive from the Intellect.
- 81 2.3  17, 15-24, Armstrong’s translation significantly revised. Once again the obscurity of the (...)
“Intellect gives to the Soul of the All, and Soul (the one which comes next after Intellect) gives from itself to the soul next after it, enlightening it and impressing form on it, and this last soul [viz. Nature] immediately makes, as if under orders. It makes some things without hindrance, while in making others it meets obstruction. But since its power to make is derived, and it is filled with logoi which are not the original ones, it will make [living things] not only in accordance with the form-principles that it has received, but something will also come to be from soul itself, and this thing is clearly worse. This thing [that comes from soul alone] is indeed a living thing, but a more imperfect one, and one which finds its own life disgusting since it is the worst, ill-conditioned and savage, made of inferior matter, this matter being a sort of sediment of the prior realities, bitter and embittering.”81
- 82 Thus, to be clear, I am taking lines 20-21 to be distinguishing between two different classes of li (...)
35Here Plotinus describes one class of living things as being the product of soul working in accordance with the form principles it has received from Intellect, and another class of living things that the soul produces on its own, which would seem to mean that its production is not strictly speaking guided by logoi. This could be easily reconciled with the conclusions reached above if Plotinus were to have terata in mind here, but that does not seem to be the case. In the continuation of this passage at the start of chapter 18, Plotinus points to ‘venomous creatures’ – presumably, the snakes, spiders and scorpions that Galen also found problematic – as an example of this class of living thing, which shows that Plotinus is thinking of kinds and not merely defective individuals of a kind. This also fits better with what we saw him to be saying in the previous chapter 16 in our discussion of parts, namely that there are certain kinds of parts that in some sense do not correspond to logoi.82
- 83 K.-H. Leven (‘Galle’ in Leven (ed.), Antike Medizin, C.H. Beck, Munich, 2005, p. 322) traces the ‘b (...)
- 84 Here again we have an idea already present in Homer : snakes produce their venom by eating bilious (...)
- 85 Ammonius, in de Int. 21, 29-30 ; Asclepius, in Meta. 339, 16-17 ; Damascius, in Parm. 1.282, 5 ; Pr (...)
36The parallels between chapters 16 and 17 might indeed go even further. For it was suggested above that Plotinus could be thinking of the problem of residues such as bile in chapter 16, and here in chapter 17 he uses a metaphor that is highly suggestive of bile to describe the material component of these ‘worst’ living things. Their matter is described as a ‘bitter sediment’ (ὑποστάθµης πικρᾶς) that also makes other things bitter. This is the only occurrence of the term ‘sediment’ (ὑποστάθµη) in the Enneads, and its singular use in conjunction with the adjective ‘bitter’ is particularly striking. For as we saw above, bile is generally described as a ‘sediment’ (ὑποστάθµη or ὑπόστασις) or ‘secretion’ (περίττωµα) of other substances such as blood, and it is frequently characterized as bitter and embittering.83 This association is further cemented by Plotinus’ example of ‘venomous creatures,’ since bile was often causally connected to or even identified with venom and poisons.84 This metaphor, then, together with Plotinus’ example of the ‘venomous creatures’, makes reasonably clear that this bilious matter is not to be identified with prime matter – despite the fact that many Platonists in the subsequent tradition refer to prime matter as the ὑποστάθµη of procession.85 For the immediate products of prime matter are the primary elements, which, unlike venomous creatures, could hardly be described as ‘bitter and embittering.’
- 86 E.g., wasps and bees (Philoponus, in Phys. 105, 14ff. and 179, 5ff. ; Asclepius, in Meta. 408, 2ff. (...)
- 87 See especially 3.4  6, 40-45 and 4.3  8, 47-60. See also the discussion of spontaneity abov (...)
- 88 2.3  18, 1-5.
37The interesting questions that remain are: What kind of proximate matter does Plotinus have in mind here, what does it mean for the soul to create these things ‘from itself,’ and most importantly for our purposes here, are there natural logoi corresponding to these products or not? The pursuit of these questions will inevitably come up against the limits of the text, but Plotinus’ account of the matter, coupled with his primary example of venomous creatures, strongly suggests that he is returning to the topic of ‘spontaneously’ generated living things that he introduced in 5.9 . For many venomous creatures were thought to be generated by putrefaction,86 and since the rotting bodies of animals and plants form the material starting point of such generation, this suggestion also explains Plotinus’ harsh description of the matter. Nor is this suggestion at odds with his claim that these creatures are the products of soul, because for Plotinus and other later Platonists the generation of living things from putrefaction is not at all a case of genuine spontaneous generation in the Aristotelian sense of forms and life emerging solely from a material basis. Rather, he sees soul as being responsible for their production,87 and indeed his account of soul’s creative activity here is comparable to the one we saw above in 5.9  14 where the soul is described as doing the best it can with rotten matter. All of this fits well with the general point that Plotinus aims to establish in 2.3  16-18, namely that everything in the sensible world makes its own positive contribution to the whole – even the prima facie regrettable necessary by-products of other, more elevated life-processes can be salvaged by nature for some purpose, though we may not be in a position to say what that purpose is.88
- 89 As Pieter d’Hoine has kindly pointed out to me, Proclus for his part does appear to accept such log (...)
38This leaves the question of whether there are logoi at the level of Nature corresponding to these products of putrefaction or not. Once again, the text gives no definitive answer. Plotinus’ statement that Nature is not using ‘what it has received’ from Soul and Intellect in the creation of these living things might suggest that there are not, yet if these creatures are fairly said to derive ‘from Nature’ (παρ᾿ αὐτῆς), it would seem that they would have to correspond to natural logoi, since all of Nature’s own creative activities are accounted for by such logoi. Presumably, then, Plotinus is employing the distinction between higher and lower order principles that we examined above: Nature receives formal principles of a certain higher order to which these creatures do not directly correspond but in which are potentially contained formal principles that do directly correspond to them. Thus, they derive from Nature in the sense that it is Nature that must unfold the principles it has received and discover the appropriate ones for this type of matter. If this is right, then the intelligible status of these creatures would be comparable to that of inferior parts: they correspond to (lower level) natural principles but do not correspond directly to intelligible Forms.89
39To conclude, the distinction between intelligible and natural kinds allows Plotinus to account for much but not all of the details of living things in the sensible world. There are certainly intelligible kinds corresponding to all living things that reproduce in a normal biological manner, but not to parts of living things or individual bodies. Individual bodies, however, do correspond to natural kinds as do the parts of living things, and both of these cases involve as much detail as is thought to be inheritable. There is a grey area that includes residues such as bile and those creatures that are simply generated from putrefaction, but Plotinus’ commitment to comprehensiveness of the divine plan and his acknowledgment of the positive contribution that these things make to their respective wholes strongly suggest that he does see them as corresponding to natural logoi, albeit of a very low order.
1 2.3  18, 16-22 ; 2.9  4 ; 3.2  3 ; 3.8  11, 29-33 ; 5.8  7-8.
2 2.9  4,25-6 ; 2.9  8 ; 3.2  2, 8-12 ; 3.7  11, 27-9 ; 5.8  12, 20-26 ; 6.3  1, 19-21 ; 6.6  18, 46-7 ; Cf. Plato, Tim. 48e5-9a1.
3 For animals, see 31a4-5 and 39e-40a ; elements 51bff. (and cf. 39e-40a along with the Soph. 266b). And see Phil. 15a4-5 and Ep. VII 342d5-7. Plato also allows for a Form of the cosmos as a whole, which is also a natural living thing, see Tim. 30c-31b.
4 Parm. 130c1-4.
5 2.9  6, 17 ; 3.9  1, 1ff. ; 5.9  9, 8 ; 6.2  21, 56-58 ; 6.2  22, 39 ; 6.6  7, 15-19 ; 6.6  8, 1-3 ; 6.6  15, 8-12 ; 6.6  17, 34-43 ; 6.6  18, 12ff. ; 6.7  8, 31.
6 4.8  1, 48-50 ; 5.8  3, 32-33 ; 6.6  7, 15-19 ; 6.6  8, 1-3 ; 6.6  15, 1-12 ; 6.7  12 passim ; 6.7  8, 1-2 ; 6.7  9, 1ff. This view is documented even in Plotinus’ earliest phase of writing (4.8 ), as well as in principal treatises of his middle period such as 6.7 .
7 See Proclus, In Parm. 888, 11-38 ; Alcinous, Didask. 9.2 ; H. Dörrie - M. Baltes, Der Platonismus in der Antike, Band 5, Die philosophische Lehre des Platonismus. Platonische Physik, Fromann-Holzboog, Stuttgart, 1998, p. 338 ; cf. d’Hoine, Platonic Problems and Neoplatonic Ideas, (unpubl. diss.), Leuven, 2006, p. 100ff. As Ferrari, Dio, idee e material. La struttura del cosmo in Plutarco de Cheronea, D’Auria, Naples, 1995, p. 218f., has pointed out, this orthodox understanding of the Forms reflects the central place that the Timaeus receives among later Platonists.
8 In 5.7  2, 15-17 τὸ αἴσχος and in 4.4  38, 19-22 ἡ αἰσχρότης and τι ἐλλεῖπον πρὸς τὸ βέλτιον are attributed to matter. Similarly in 2.3  12,7-11 matter’s domination is said to be responsible for a χεῖρον offspring, and in 2.3  13,40-45 this is spelled out in terms of κατὰ σῶµα ἀσθένεια and σῶµατος κακῶς συντεθέντος. In 2.3  14,29-33 Plotinus again says that offspring not formed κατὰ λόγον turns out to be χεῖρον.
9 5.9  14, 10-11 and 2.3  16, 51.
10 2.3  14, 29-33 (Armstrong, slightly revised).
11 5.9  10, 1-6.
12 The matter is often described by later Platonists as lacking the ‘suitability’ to receive the principles, e.g., [Alexander], Problemata 2.47.4-7 ; Eustratius (11th C), In Aristotelis analyticorum posteriorum librum secundum commentarium 157, 3-14 ; [Philoponus], in GA 179, 25-180, 3 ; Philoponus, in DA 13, 5-8 ; Philoponus, in Phys. 199, 24ff. ; M. Psellus, Opuscula psychologica, theologica, daemonologica 32.
13 cf. Porphyry, Ad Gaurum 14.3.
14 Plotinus only refers to the menstrual fluid explicitly in two passages, 5.8  2, 6-7 and 2.9  12, 18-21. In both cases it is presented as a passive substance that is supposed to receive the form from the male. See my “Porphyry and Plotinus on the Seed”, Phronesis 53, 2008, p. 406-432 (esp. p. 410).
15 E.g., Alexander, in Meta. 1.178, 25-26 ; Eustratius, In Aristotelis analyticorum posteriorum librum secundum commentarium 157, 3-14 ; Philoponus, in Phys. 269, 18-22 and 291.21.23 ; Simplicius, in Phys. 261, 15-17 ; Themistius, in Phys. paraphr. 56,14-17.
16 Aristotle, Phys. 197b14ff.
17 Condition (i) is met because biological generation is usually a process guided by a formal and final cause. For a discussion of some of the tensions and problems in Aristotle’s theory of spontaneous generation, see D. Balme, “Development of Biology in Aristotle and Theophrastus : Theory of Spontaneous Generation”, Phronesis 7, 1962, p. 91-104 ; A. Gotthelf, “Teleology and Spontaneous Generation in Aristotle : A Discussion”, in R. Kraut and T. Penner (eds.), Nature, Knowledge and Virtue, Academic Printing and Publishing, Edmonton, 1989, p. 181-93 ; D. Henry, “Themistius and Spontaneous Generation in Aristotle’s Metaphysics”, Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 24, 2003, p. 183-208 ; J.G. Lennox, “Teleology, Chance, and Aristotle’s De Partibus Animalium”, in J.G. Lennox, Aristotle’s Philosophy of Biology, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2001, p. 229-49.
18 In what follows, then, I shall refer to cases of life-forms being generated from decaying matter as either “generation from putrefaction” or “‘spontaneous’ (using inverted commas) generation” in order to distinguish them from those that the Platonists themselves would describe as cases of spontaneity.
19 He is, however, capable of using the expression ‘spontaneously’ (ἐκ τοῦ αὐτοµάτου) in this sense, see especially his remarks on fire in 6.7  11, 36 – 44. The unnaturalness of terata is often stressed by Platonists and Peripatetics alike, e.g., Aristotle, GA 770b9ff. ; Philoponus, in Phys. 199, 24ff. ; M. Psellus, Opuscula logica, physica, allegorica, alia 16 ; Porphyry, AG 12, 6-7 ; Themistius, in Phys. Paraphr. 56, 14-17 ; Theophrastus, Hist. plant. 2.3.2 ; cf. Simplicius, in Phys. 374, 24-26.
20 For a more in-depth discussion of these points, see Wilberding “Neoplatonists on ‘Spontaneous’ Generation”, in J. Wilberding and Chr. Horn (eds.), Neoplatonism and the Philosophy of Nature, Oxford University Press, Oxford (forthcoming).
21 Parm. 130c5-d3. This is reinforced by Plato at Soph. 249a (and cf. Aristotle Meta. 1074b17-18), where being is said to be σεµνὸν καὶ ἅγιον.
22 To my knowledge Plotinus nowhere uses any direct Greek equivalent of ‘natural kind’, but we are still justified in attributing a notion of natural kinds to him to the extent that he clearly does distinguish between more universal logoi at the level of soul and more particularized logoi at the level of nature. Here I am simply using the label ‘natural kind’ to refer to these lower-level logoi.
23 Proclus, in Parm. 825, 36 – 826, 16 (Morrow/Dillon translation). On this passage, see M. Baltes, Der Platonismus in der Antike, vol. 5, p. 338ff. and P. d’Hoine, Platonic Problems and Neoplatonic Ideas, p. 162-4, which I found helpful for this discussion.
24 See ET §65 and d’Hoine, p. 164, and in general D. Baltzly, “Mereological Modes of Being in Proclus”, Ancient Philosophy 28, 2008, p. 395-411 ; A.C. Lloyd, “Procession and Division in Proclus”, in H.J. Blumenthal and A.C. Lloyd (eds.), Soul and Structure of Being in Late Neoplatonism : Syrianus, Proclus and Simplicius, University of Liverpool Press, Liverpool, 1982, p. 18-45.
25 For a fuller discussion of logoi in Neoplatonism see L. Brisson, “Logos et logoi chez Plotin. Leur nature et leur rôle”, Les Cahiers philosophiques de Strasbourg 8, 1999, p. 87-108, and P. Lautner, “Different Types of Logoi and their Place in Empirical Knowledge and Noetic Understanding in Syrianus”, Ancient Philosophy 29, 2009, p. 373-390.
26 Syrianus, in Meta. 8, 17-20 and 107, 14-18, on which see M. Baltes, Der Platonismus in der Antike, vol. 5, p. 338ff. Iamblichus is also given credit.
27 E.g., 3.8  4 ; 5.1  6 ; 2.3  17, 18-21.
28 Cf. τὰ τίµια 6.7  9, 1 ; τὸ τίµιον 9, 3 and 4 ; ἀτιµάσαι 11, 2 ; τὰ εὐτελῆ 9, 2 ; τὸ εὐτελές 9, 3 ; τὸ σεµνόν 8, 16-17 (regarding σεµνόν, cf. Plato Soph. 249a and Aristotle, Meta. 1074b17-18).
29 Cf. Tim. 76d-e.
30 6.7  9, 38-46.
31 6.7  9, 45-46.
32 6.7  7, 1-5.
33 6.7  9, 34-35.
34 6.7  9, 45.
35 See D’Ancona-Costa, “Separation and the Forms. A Plotinian Approach”, American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 71.3, 1997, p. 367-403. Without these equestrian features, one might reasonably wonder what it is that distinguishes the Form of Horse from, e.g., the Form of Dog. Plotinus makes very clear that they are different, since the completeness of the whole intelligible world depends on it being comprised of different Forms (6.7  10,4-9), and our passage from 6.7  9 explains that they differ both in terms of the depth of their procession (the Form of Plant descends much further than the Form of Man, as the latter retains a higher level of rationality) and in terms of the specific features that unfold during this procession. We might compare the Forms of two different living things, say of a plant and of a dog, to seeds : the seed of a plant and the seed of a dog each gives rise to a very different creature that is distinguished by many characteristic features, e.g., the dog has sharp teeth and sense perception, while the plant has roots and leaves. But the seed of a dog does not have sharp teeth or perception, nor does that of a plant have leaves and roots. Thus, if we consider the seeds themselves apart from their generational activity, there are no actual features we can point to that distinguishes the one from the other, and yet this distinction is there by virtue of how differently they behave when they proceed with their generative activity. So too, the Forms of various living things do not differ in their static intelligible activities, but only in terms of their processional activity.
36 2.3  16, 46-52. In this case the obscurity of the passage warrants the reproduction of the Greek : καὶ γὰρ ἐπὶ τῶν καθ᾿ἕκαστα ζῴων οὕτω· καὶ τὰ µὲν βελτίω ἀναγκάζει καὶ πλάττει ὁ λόγος, ὅσα δὲ µὴ τοιαῦτα, δυνάµει κεῖται ἐν τοῖς λόγοις, ἐνεργείᾳ δὲ ἐν τοῖς γενοµένοις, οὐδὲν ἔτι δεοµένης ἐκείνης ποιεῖν οὐδ᾿ἀνακινεῖν τοὺς λόγους ἤδη τῆς ὕλης τῷ σεισµῷ τῷ ἐκ τῶν προηγουµένων λόγων καὶ τὰ παρ᾿αὐτῆς ποιούσης τὰ χείρω, κρατουµένης δ᾿αὖ οὐδὲν ἧττον πρὸς τὰ βελτίω.
37 I would like to thank Christoph Helmig for urging me to consider the former interpretation as well as for his other astute comments on an earlier version of this paper.
38 2.3  16, 42-46.
39 6.7  7, 1-5 ; 2.3  16, 41-43.
40 Compare especially δυνάµει κεῖται ἐν τοῖς λόγοις, ἐνεργείᾳ δὲ ἐν τοῖς γενοµένοις (2.3  16, 48-49) with ἐνεργείᾳ µὲν γὰρ ἐκεῖνο, δύναται δὲ πάντα· λαµβάνοµεν δὲ καθ᾿ἕκαστον τὸ ἐνεργείᾳ· τὸ δ᾿ἐνεργείᾳ ἔσχατον […] εὑρεῖν ἐν αὐτῷ τοῦ ἐλλείποντος κειµένην ἴασιν (6.7  9, 34-36 and 45-46).
41 The term φύσις does occur in ll. 44-45 but has a different sense, as Armstrong’s translation brings out well.
42 6.8  9, 44-46.
43 2.3  12, 12-32 has been put in brackets by H-S and Armstrong, on the grounds that it does not seem to be in tune with the rest of the chapter. B-Th transpose it to the conclusion of chapter 5, as did Ficino and Perna. I would agree with those who think it out of place – indeed it strikes me as two separate passages, breaking at 12, 24 – but I don’t see good reasons for doubting its authenticity. Armstrong (Introductory Note p. 55) finds the tolerance of astrology here suspicious (but see P. Adamson “Plotinus on Astrology”, Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 34, 2008, p. 265-291 ; and regarding heat in the heavens, see J. Wilberding, Plotinus’ Cosmology. A Study of Ennead 2.1 (40), Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006, p. 216-7), but not the rest, as Armstrong acknowledges. Importantly, the remark about the function of bile clearly reflects Plotinus’ own views (cf. 4.4  28, 35-43 ; 32, 27-30 ; and 41, 9-11), and if my suggestions regarding chapters 16 (above) and 17 (below) are correct, they provide additional support for the authenticity of this passage.
44 2.3  17, 23-24 and 18, 4. Both passages are discussed below.
45 See, e.g., Aristotle, PA 677a11-15 ; [Alexander], Problemata 4.16 ; Galen, De atra bile 5.112, 5-6 Kühn ; De temperamentis 1.603, 9-10 Kühn ; Rufus of Ephesus, De corporis humani appellationibus 221 ; Oribasius, Collectiones medicae 4.14. Note that ὑποστάθµη and ὑπόστασις are effectively synonymous, but in later Platonic thought ὑπόστασις takes on a central meaning of its own, and so these authors use only ὑποστάθµη in the sense of sediment, as we shall below.
46 See Tim. 82e-83e and 86e-87a. Plato forges a strong association between bile and disease, but since bile may be manipulated by reason, these diseases appear to provide the means to their own cures. See also Galen, QAM 4.789ff. Kühn and UP 2.447 Kühn.
47 Tim. 71b-d.
48 PA 676b22-25.
49 PA 677a15-18. Aristotle does, however, concede that in some cases nature is able to make use of residues.
50 A.H. Armstrong, “Form, Individual and Person in Plotinus”, Dionysius 1, 1977, p. 49-68 ; Blumenthal, “Did Plotinus believe in Ideas of Individuals ?”, Phronesis 11, 1966, p. 61-80 ; P.S. Mamo, “Forms of Individuals in Plotinus”, Phronesis 14, 1969, p. 77-96 ; J.M. Rist, “Forms of Individuals in Plotinus”, Classical Quarterly 13(2), 1963, p. 223-31, and “Ideas of Individuals in Plotinus : a reply to Dr. Blumenthal”, Revue internationale de philosophie 92, 1970, p. 298-303. ; P. Kalligas, “Forms of Individuals in Plotinus : A Re-Examination”, Phronesis 42, 1997, p. 206-227 ; C. D’Ancona Costa, “To Bring Back the Divine in Us to the Divine in the All”, in Th. Kobush and M. Erler (eds.), Metaphysik und Religion. Zur Signatur des spätantiken Denkens, Saur, Munich, 2002, p. 517-565 ; P. Vassilopoulou, “Plotinus and Individuals”, Ancient Philosophy 26, 2006, p. 1-13 ; see also L. Gerson, Plotinus, Routledge, London, 1994, p. 72-8. For a convenient summarizing characterization of recent solutions to this problem, see Chr. Tornau, “Qu’est-ce qu’un individu ? Unité, individualité et conscience de soi dans la métaphysique plotinienne de l’âme”, Les études philosophiques. Plotin et son platonisme, 2009, p. 333-360, p. 337.
51 For a discussion of some of the evidence surrounding this issue, see M. Baltes, Der Platonismus in der Antike, vol. 5, p. 336ff., esp. p. 344 n. 45. For a recent case of such a characterization, see D. Baltzly, “Mereological Modes of Being”, p. 405 n. 19 : “[Proclus’] acceptance of the atomon as a maximally particular sort of universal is not yet to embrace a Plotinian notion of Forms of individuals.” A notable exception appears to be Amelius, who (apud Syrianus, in Meta. 147,2-6) is reported to have accepted an infinite number of Forms. As Pieter d’Hoine has pointed out to me, what kinds of Forms are meant here is a matter of some controversy, but he has recently argued (“Ceux qui acceptent des idées de toutes choses”, Philosophie antique 10, 2010, p. 227-254) that this is best understood as a reference to Forms of sensible individual living things (as opposed to Forms of individual souls). For an alternative interpretation, see L. Brisson, “Amélius : sa vie, son œuvre, sa doctrine, son style”, in W. Haase (ed.), Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt (ANRW), vol. II 36.2, Berlin, 1987, p. 793-860 (esp. p. 831-6).
52 That the logoi at issue in 5.7  are the logoi of a nature is clear from Plotinus’ description of them being the formal principles at work in matter (e.g., 5.7  2, 11-12). Thus, when these logoi fail to form the matter, the result is said to be para physin (5.7  2, 14). The embryological component of the treatise in chapters 2-3 also makes this clear, as the seed is derived from the vegetative power of soul. See my “Porphyry and Plotinus on the Seed”. Here I believe I am in agreement with P. Remes’ excellent discussion in Plotinus on Self. The Philosophy of the ‘We’, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2007, p. 76ff. Remes ultimately describes forms of individuals as ‘collections of logoi’ which ‘are forms only in a very loose sense of the word […] they are logical parts of forms, that is, possibilities within the form of human being’ (p. 81).
53 5.7  2, 13-14.
54 “This variety is an ubiquitous beauty,” as Plotinus says (5.7  2, 14-15).
55 5.7  2, 15-16.
56 5.7  2, 7-12. The mechanics here are unclear. Plotinus speaks of ‘mixture’ (5.7  2,1) of the parents’ logoi, but he does not appear to subscribe to a two-seed theory. For some suggestions on how to resolve this tension, see my “Porphyry and Plotinus on the Seed.”
57 5.7  2, 11-12.
58 Theaet. 143e.
59 5.7  3, 1ff., esp. 12-13, where the Stoic notion of ἰδίως ποιόν is surely in the background.
60 In 5.7  3 Plotinus appears to accept an even higher degree of correspondence between physical features and formal principles than he did in 5.9  12. Whereas in the latter passage he stops short of ascribing all physiological features to formal principles, here he posits distinct logoi even in the factually improbable case of two individuals who are completely identical in appearance (5.7  3, 6-7). I doubt, however, that Plotinus wishes to overturn his judgment, reaffirmed in 5.7  2, that some features of individuals are due to matter.
61 Galen, de foet. form. 104, 25 – 106, 1 Nickel ( = 4.700, 17 – 701, 6 Kühn).
62 The classic Platonic passage the benefit that vegetation is supposed to bring to humanity is Tim. 76e-77c.
63 5.9  14, 6-11 and 15-17 (Armstrong’s translation slightly revised).
64 ῥύπου καὶ πηλοῦ (5.9  14, 8). Cf. πηλὸς καὶ ρύπος (Parm. 130c6).
65 ἀτιµότατόν τε καὶ φαυλότατον, Parm. 130c6-7.
66 Themistius’ examples of χαλεπὰ ζῷα include bears, lions and wild boars (Περὶ φιλανθρωπίας ἢ Κωνστάντιος 3.1.6-7).
67 The generation from putrefaction gives rise to a number of questions that cannot be pursued here, and in what follows I shall simply be focusing more narrowly on the issue of whether there are either intelligible or natural kinds corresponding to these and other trivial and ignoble creatures.
68 These remarks about obstruction and unnaturalness, however, are explicitly made only about ‘spontaneously’ generated creatures and might not be meant to extend to all ‘savage’ living things. If this is right, then it should be noted that even in this early treatise Plotinus is using the notion of soul taking forms from matter in a way that does not simply amount to obstruction and corruption.
69 ἕκαστον τῶν ζῷων (6.7  8, 2). See also ζῷα ξύµπαντα, ὅσα πεζὰ καὶ χερσαῖα λέγεται ἐνταῦθα (12, 8-9) and τὰ ἐν ὕδατι ζῷα πάντα (12, 11).
70 6.7  9, 20-22 (where I am assuming that θεοί at l. 21 is meant to include the δαίµονας of 6, 26). Other references to human beings can be found throughout these chapters, e.g., 6.7  6, 11ff., and for non-rational animals, see 8, 16 ; 9, 2 ; 9, 13.
71 θήρειον σῶµα 6.7  6, 22 ; τὴν θήρειον φύσιν 6, 34 and 7, 2.
72 Plotinus’ main example of beast : 6.7  7, 3 ; 8, 1ff. ; 9, 24 and 36.
73 6.7  7, 2.
74 6.7  7, 5.
75 6.7  12, 8-9.
76 6.7  12, 11.
77 6.7  11, 6ff. ; 12, 9.
78 The elements also qualify as living things for Plotinus. Fire is first mentioned at 6.7  6, 6 and the topic is resumed and discussed in full in chapter 11.
79 See above, esp. note 33.
80 6.7  10, 5-6 and 12, 2-4. Cf. Plato, Tim. 31a3-4.
81 2.3  17, 15-24, Armstrong’s translation significantly revised. Once again the obscurity of the passage warrants the reproduction of the Greek : Νοῦς δὴ ψυχῇ δίδωσι τῇ τοῦ παντός, ψυχὴ δὲ παρ᾿αὐτῆς ἡ µετὰ νοῦν τῇ µετ᾿αὐτὴν ἐλλάµπουσα καὶ τυποῦσα, ἡ δὲ ὡσπερεὶ ἐπιταχθεῖσα ἤδη ποιεῖ· ποιεῖ δὲ τὰ µὲν ἀνεµποδίστως, τὰ δὲ ἐµποδισθεῖσα [χείρω]. ῞Ατε δὲ δύναµιν εἰς τὸ ποιεῖν λαβοῦσα καὶ λόγων οὐ τῶν πρώτων πληρωθεῖσα οὐ µόνον καθ᾿ἃ ἔλαβε ποιήσει, ἀλλὰ γένοιτο ἄν τι καὶ παρ᾿αὐτῆς καὶ τοῦτο δηλονότι χεῖρον· καὶ ζῷον µέν, ζῷον δὲ ἀτελέστερον καὶ δυσχεραῖνον τὴν αὐτοῦ ζωήν, ἅτε χείριστον καὶ δύσκολον δὴ καὶ ἄγριον καὶ ἐξ ὕλης χείρονος οἷον ὑποστάθµης τῶν προηγουµένων πικρᾶς καὶ πικρὰ ποιούσης. The χείρω is deleted by Müller, and by B-Th. as ‘syntaktisch schlecht’. To this I would add that χείρω looks like a misleading gloss that seeks to identify the two classes of living things described in ll. 17-18 (which I understand to be celestial living things and the majority of sublunary living things respectively) with the two classes of living things described in ll. 20-21 (which I take to refer to be distinguishing between ordinary and very ignoble sublunary living things). See next note.
82 Thus, to be clear, I am taking lines 20-21 to be distinguishing between two different classes of living things produced by nature. The first class is formed according to the logoi that it received, the second is something (ti) that comes from it alone, which Plotinus describes as being worse. Armstrong’s translation suggests that he understands these lines to be directed at a single class of living things that are generately partly by inherited logoi and partly by nature’s own contribution. This is certainly a possible reading of the text, but I have been led to this alternative by Plotinus’ allusion to bile in the lines that follow (discussed below). Our investigation into ignoble parts of the body concluded that Plotinus appeared to distinguish between the noble parts of the body, such as eyes and noses, and ignoble parts such as bile, where the former correspond directly to ‘preferred’ logoi whereas the latter do not (see above on 2.3  16, 46-52). This suggests that a similar distinction is in play here.
83 K.-H. Leven (‘Galle’ in Leven (ed.), Antike Medizin, C.H. Beck, Munich, 2005, p. 322) traces the ‘bittere und verbitternde’ nature of bile back to Homer (Il. 16, 203-206), and it is also evidenced by other philosophers belonging to Plotinus’ tradition, e.g., [Alexander], Prob. 101, 1-7 ; Asclepius, in Meta. 286, 25-26 ; Olympiodorus, in Cat. 98, 32-33. For Plotinus’ association of bitterness and bile, see 4.4  28, 51-52. See also, e.g, Plato, Tim. 71b-d and 82e-83e ; Aristotle, DA 425b1-5 (and following on this, Simplicius, in DA 182, 18-23 and 186, 12-13 ; Themistius, in DA 82, 28-9) ; Meta. 1044a18-19 ; PA 677a25-27 ; Galen, Nat. Fac. 2.115 and 125 ; PHP 8.5.10 ; of the Hippocratic Corpus, Diseases IV 36.1 and De prisca medicina 19, 21-22 ; Proclus, in Tim. 1.396, 15-16 ; Sophocles Fr. 854.
84 Here again we have an idea already present in Homer : snakes produce their venom by eating bilious plants (on this passage, see Leven, ‘Galle’, p. 323). Heracles dips his arrows in the bile of the Hydra to give them a poisonous coating (Apollonius Rhodius 4, 1404 and Apollodorus 2.80, 6f.).
85 Ammonius, in de Int. 21, 29-30 ; Asclepius, in Meta. 339, 16-17 ; Damascius, in Parm. 1.282, 5 ; Proclus, in Alc. 181,17-18 and in Tim 2.65, 22-25 ; Simplicius, in Phys. 231, 34-37.
86 E.g., wasps and bees (Philoponus, in Phys. 105, 14ff. and 179, 5ff. ; Asclepius, in Meta. 408, 2ff. ; Michael Psellus, Oratio minora 28, 27ff. ; Olympiodorus, in Meteo. 278, 9-10 ; Photius, Bibliotheca 400a ; Ps.-Galen, Εἰ ζῷον τὸ κατὰ γαστρός 19.175, 6ff. ; Simplicius, in DC 98, 6ff. and in Phys. 239, 18ff. ; Themistius, ad Meta. XII 1070a26-8 [translated in R. Sorabji’s sourcebook : The Philosophy of the Commentators 200-600AD : A Sourcebook, 3 vols., Duckworth, London, 2005, vol. 2, p. 42-43), serpents (Asclepius, in Meta. 408, 2ff. ; Plutarch, Agis 39 ; Photius, Bibliotheca 400a), scorpions (Asclepius, in Meta. 408, 2ff.).
87 See especially 3.4  6, 40-45 and 4.3  8, 47-60. See also the discussion of spontaneity above.
88 2.3  18, 1-5.
89 As Pieter d’Hoine has kindly pointed out to me, Proclus for his part does appear to accept such logoi of creatures generated by putrefaction (in Parm. 793,4-11 Steel ; cf. the passage of Themistius cited in note 86). A fuller study of the Neoplatonic theories of ‘spontaneous’ generation is required to address all of the issues that arise here, e.g., although we can account for the intelligibility of the natural logos of parts such as snub-noses and individuals such as Socrates by locating them potentially in the Form of Human Being, it is not obvious the natural logoi of these creatures sprung from putrefaction can be accounted for in the same way, since it is not clear which Form they would be potentially contained in. Perhaps a solution might be found in the curious details of these theories, which have it that the rotting body of a creature of one type generally gives rise to creatures of a certain other type, e.g., whereas wasps come from horses, bees come from bulls. For references, see above, n. 86, and see my “Neoplatonists on ‘Spontaneous’ Generation”.Haut de page
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James Wilberding, « Intelligible Kinds and Natural Kinds in Plotinus », Études platoniciennes, 8 | 2011, 53-76.
James Wilberding, « Intelligible Kinds and Natural Kinds in Plotinus », Études platoniciennes [En ligne], 8 | 2011, mis en ligne le 16 décembre 2014, consulté le 27 mars 2017. URL : http://etudesplatoniciennes.revues.org/459 ; DOI : 10.4000/etudesplatoniciennes.459Haut de page
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