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Epoché: A Journal for the History of Philosophy

Volume 13, Issue 2, Spring 2009

Selected Articles of the Ancient Philosophy Society

Suzanne Stern-Gillet
Pages 331-345
DOI: 10.5840/epoche200913210

Dual Selfhood and Self-Perfection in the Enneads

Plotinus’s theory of dual selfhood has ethical norms built into it, all of which derive from the ontological superiority of the higher (or undescended) soul in us over the body-soul compound. The moral life, as it is presented in the Enneads, is a life of self-perfection, devoted to the care of the higher self. Such a conception of morality is prone to strike modern readers as either ‘egoistic’ or unduly austere. If there is no doubt that Plotinus’s ethics is exceptionally austere, it will be argued below that it is not ‘egoistic.’ To that effect, the following questions will be addressed: Are the virtues, civic as well as purificatory, mere means to Plotinus’s metaphysically conceived ethical goal? To what extent must the lower self abnegate itself so as to enable the higher self to ascend to Intellect and beyond? And if self-perfection lies at the centre of the Plotinian moral life, is there any conceptual room left in it for other-regarding norms of conduct? A close reading of selected passages from Plotinus’s tractate I.2[19] On Virtues and tractate VI.8[39] On Free Will and the Will of the One will, it is claimed, bring elements of answer to these questions.

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