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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 2 The Practice of Philosophy


According to the Ennead I.3, the first stage of Plotinus’ mystical teaching is the practice of philosophy, namely the intellectual inquiry into intelligible beings.1 Since further methodological details about this practice are not explicitly set forth in I.3, in this chapter I will refer to other passages from the Enneads and attempt a more systematic explanation thereof from a specific perspective, namely the desire for knowledge. The curious place of the desire for knowledge in Plotinus’ conception of man’s ordinary experience is already suggested in Chapter 1: on the one hand, man is originally united with the One but his desire to know the One breaks off this union; on the other hand, man can somehow return to the original union by striving to know the One. Since both the leitmotif and the dramatic tension of Plotinus’ mystical teaching reside in this desire for knowledge, it provides us a vantage point to develop a more systematic account of Plotinus’ practice of philosophy.

Section 1 Different Desires and the Desire for Knowledge

In this section I address a preparatory issue: the relation between different modes of desire and the desire for knowledge according to Plotinus. As far as exegesis is concerned, it is intended to order the different terms used in the Enneads which refer to the phenomenon of desire. From a more systematic perspective, this also deepens our understanding of Plotinus’ desire for knowledge and facilitates our explanation of the methodological details of Plotinus’...

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