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Plotinus’ Mystical Teaching of Henosis

An Interpretation in the Light of the Metaphysics of the One

Pao-Shen Ho

Plotinus’ mysticism of henosis, unification with the One, is a highly controversial topic in Plotinian scholarship. This book presents a careful reading of the Enneads and suggests that Plotinus’ mysticism be understood as mystical teaching that offers practical guidance concerning henosis. It is further argued that a rational interpretation thereof should be based on Plotinus’ metaphysics, according to which the One transcends all beings but is immanent in them. The main thesis of this book is that Plotinus’ mystical teaching does not help man attain henosis on his own, but serves to remind man that he fails to attain henosis because it already pertains to his original condition. Plotinus’ mysticism seeks to change man’s misconception about henosis, rather than his finite nature.
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Chapter 1 Plotinus’ Metaphysics of the One


To understand Plotinus’ teaching of henosis, first we have to explain how our subject, namely the One, is accessible at all. The condition of possibility of our study therefore depends on two critical issues: first, how the One “exists”, and second, what the One “is.” Now it is clear that for Plotinus both the “existence” and the “essence” of the One are not to be taken in the ordinary sense (hence the scare quotes) because the One, as the first principle that grounds and explains all beings, is itself irreducible to any being (τὸ ὄν, οὐσία). What is not, but should have been made clear, however, is Plotinus’ subtle approach to these formal requirements. For this reason, this chapter will not directly explain these questions, but proceeds through critical discussions of scholarly interpretations of the Enneads. In Section 1 I present the standard account which is upheld by several Plotinian commentators and bears an interesting similarity to Thomas Aquinas’ doctrine of God, and argue that this account does not really capture the basic intuition underlying Plotinus’ reflections upon the One. Section 2 focuses on the doctrine that the One radically transcends even the apophatic claims made about It. Finally, Section 3 explains how this radical transcendence implies the radical immanence which provides access to the One in our daily experience, thereby paving the way for the first stage of Plotinus’ teaching of henosis, to be discussed in the next chapter.

Section 1 The Standard Account

Does the...

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