Ideas of Porphyry, by Theme

[Greek, 234 - 305, Born at Tyre. Taught by Plotinus. Based in Alexandria. Wrote 'Against the Christians' (lost).]

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1. Philosophy / D. Nature of Philosophy / 5. Aims of Philosophy / b. Philosophy as transcendent
Philosophy has its own mode of death, by separating soul from body
     Full Idea: There is a double death. One, known by all men, consists in the separation of the body with the soul; the other, characteristic of philosophers, results in the separation of the soul from the body.
     From: Porphyry (Launching Points to the Realm of the Mind [c.280], 1Enn9 3)
8. Modes of Existence / C. Powers and Dispositions / 2. Powers as Basic
The presence of the incorporeal is only known by certain kinds of disposition
     Full Idea: Being everywhere and nowhere, the incorporeal, wherever it happens to be, betrays its presence only by a certain kind of disposition.
     From: Porphyry (Launching Points to the Realm of the Mind [c.280], 4Enn3 21(20))
     A reaction: There is a mystical or dualist view of fundamental powers, as the spiritual engine which drives passive physical nature. It's rubbish of course, but if powers are primitive in a naturalistic theory, it is not a view which can be refuted.
8. Modes of Existence / D. Universals / 1. Universals
Are genera and species real or conceptual? bodies or incorporeal? in sensibles or separate from them?
     Full Idea: I shall beg off talking of a) whether genera and species are real or situated in bare thoughts alone, b) whether as real they are bodies or incorporeals, and c) whether they are separated or in sensibles and have their reality in connection with them.
     From: Porphyry (Isagoge ('Introduction') [c.295], (2))
     A reaction: This passage, picking up on Aristotle, seems to be the original source that grew into the medievel debate about universals. It seems to rather neatly lay out the agenda for the universals debate which is still with us.
9. Objects / B. Unity of Objects / 1. Unifying an Object / a. Intrinsic unification
Diversity arises from the power of unity
     Full Idea: Diversity is born of the development of the power of unity.
     From: Porphyry (Launching Points to the Realm of the Mind [c.280], 6Enn5 42)
     A reaction: I doubt whether even Porphyry understood this, but we might say that once the principle of unification enters into nature, it will inevitably result in diversity. One all-embracing unity would be indiscernible.
12. Knowledge Sources / E. Direct Knowledge / 3. Memory
Memory is not conserved images, but reproduction of previous thought
     Full Idea: Memory does not consist in preserving images. It is a faculty of reproducing the conceptions with which our soul has been occupied.
     From: Porphyry (Launching Points to the Realm of the Mind [c.280], 5Enn6 25(2))
15. Nature of Minds / A. Nature of Mind / 1. Mind / c. Features of mind
Intelligence is aware of itself, so the intelligence is both the thinker and the thought
     Full Idea: Since intelligence is intelligible for intelligence, intelligence is its own object. ...Intelligence, therefore, is simultaneously thinker and thought, all that thinks and all that is thought.
     From: Porphyry (Launching Points to the Realm of the Mind [c.280], 5Enn3 32(5-7))
     A reaction: This is a bit of a problem for Descartes, if the Cogito is taken as offering evidence (thought) for the existence of a thinker ('I'). Porphyry implies that the separation Descartes requires is impossible.
15. Nature of Minds / A. Nature of Mind / 1. Mind / d. Location of mind
The soul is everywhere and nowhere in the body, and must be its cause
     Full Idea: The soul is neither a body, nor in the body, but is only the cause of the body, because she is simultaneously everywhere and nowhere in the body.
     From: Porphyry (Launching Points to the Realm of the Mind [c.280], 6Enn5 43)
     A reaction: This is the rather bewildering phenomenology of consciousness which persuaded Descartes of dualism.
16. Persons / C. Self-Awareness / 2. Knowing the Self
Successful introspection reveals the substrate along with the object of thought
     Full Idea: He who by thought can penetrate within his own substance, and can thus acquire knowledge of it, finds himself in this actualisation of knowledge and consciousness, where the substrate that knows is identical with the object that is known.
     From: Porphyry (Launching Points to the Realm of the Mind [c.280], 6Enn5 44)
     A reaction: It seems remarkably that this ability is confidently asserted by Porphyry, and flatly denied by Hume. Were they just different people, or were they looking for different things, or was one of them deluded?
17. Mind and Body / A. Mind-Body Dualism / 1. Dualism
The soul is bound to matter by the force of its own disposition
     Full Idea: The individual soul, which declines towards matter, is bound to the matter by the form which her disposition has made her choose.
     From: Porphyry (Launching Points to the Realm of the Mind [c.280], 6Enn4 39)
     A reaction: This sounds like the soul is boss over the matter, and yet the soul is 'made' to choose union with matter. The Universal Soul is seen by Porphyr as the controller of the situation.
22. Metaethics / A. Value / 2. Values / d. Love
We should avoid the pleasures of love, or at least, should not enact our dreams
     Full Idea: The pleasures of love will not even involuntarily be tasted, at least, she will not allow herself to be drawn beyond the lights of fancy that occur in dreams.
     From: Porphyry (Launching Points to the Realm of the Mind [c.280], 1Enn2 I.4)
     A reaction: Presumably erotic dreams are only tolerated because not much can be done about them. This brings out the puritanism of neo-platonism.
22. Metaethics / C. Ethics Foundations / 2. Source of Ethics / e. Human nature
Justice is each person fulfilling his function
     Full Idea: Justice, as has been rightly said, consists in each one fulfilling his [authentic and proper] function.
     From: Porphyry (Launching Points to the Realm of the Mind [c.280], 6Enn5 44)
     A reaction: This is presumably a direct reference to the theory in Plato's 'Republic'. It makes the connection between virtue and function which I take to be basic to virtue theory, giving it a naturalistic advantaged over other theories.
23. Ethics / C. Virtue Theory / 2. Elements of Virtue Theory / c. Motivation for virtue
Civil virtues make us behave benevolently, and thereby unite citizens
     Full Idea: The object of the civil virtues is to make us benevolent in our dealings with our fellow-human beings, and are so-called because they unite citizens.
     From: Porphyry (Launching Points to the Realm of the Mind [c.280], 1Enn2 I.1)
     A reaction: Modern commentators underestimate the close link between ancient virtue and citizenship. It is hard for one person to have much of a notion of virtue if they live on a desert island, beyond caring for personal health.
Civil virtues control the passions, and make us conform to our nature
     Full Idea: The civil virtues moderate the passions; their object is to teach us to live in conformity with the laws of human nature.
     From: Porphyry (Launching Points to the Realm of the Mind [c.280], 1Enn2 I.2)
     A reaction: The link with human nature is basic to virtue theory, but this proposal is rather too vague. Are passions not part of the laws of human nature?
Purificatory virtues detach the soul completely from the passions
     Full Idea: The object of the 'purificatory' virtues is to detach the soul completely from the passions.
     From: Porphyry (Launching Points to the Realm of the Mind [c.280], 1Enn2 I.4)
     A reaction: This is an aspect of virtue theory which doesn't appear in Aristotle. He is in favour of rational control of the passions, but not of totally abandoning them. The neo-platonists are much more puritanical. They seem to go against human nature.
23. Ethics / C. Virtue Theory / 3. Virtues / a. Virtues
There are practical, purificatory, contemplative, and exemplary virtues
     Full Idea: The practical virtues make man virtuous; the purificatory virtues make man divine....; the contemplative virtues defiy; while the exemplary virtues make a man the parent of divinities.
     From: Porphyry (Launching Points to the Realm of the Mind [c.280], 1Enn2 I.4)
     A reaction: I like the idea of the 'exemplary' virtues. I think an entire theory of morality could be built on the notion that we are all role-models for one another.
26. Natural Theory / A. Speculations on Nature / 1. Nature
Unified real existence is neither great nor small, though greatness and smallness participate in it
     Full Idea: By its identity and numerical unity, real existence is neither great nor small, neither very large nor very small, though it causes even greatest and smallest to participate in its nature.
     From: Porphyry (Launching Points to the Realm of the Mind [c.280], 6Enn4 37(5))
     A reaction: Note the platonic word 'participate' [metechein], suggesting that he is talking about the Form of Existence here. Note also that we have 'real' existence here, implying a lesser type of existence that participates in it.
27. Natural Reality / C. Space-Time / 2. Time / i. Time and change
Some think time is seen at rest, as well as in movement
     Full Idea: Some have believed that time manifested in rest as well as in movement.
     From: Porphyry (Launching Points to the Realm of the Mind [c.280], 5Enn3 32(5-7))
     A reaction: If you like this idea, you should see Shoemaker's lovely three-worlds thought experiment.
27. Natural Reality / C. Space-Time / 2. Time / j. Time as subjective
Time is the circular movement of the soul
     Full Idea: It is the circular movement of the soul that constitutes time, just as the permanence of intelligence in itself constitutes eternity.
     From: Porphyry (Launching Points to the Realm of the Mind [c.280], 5Enn3 32(5-7))
     A reaction: Plato loved circles. If you think time is subjective, this is trying to express your intuition. Personally I think it is nonsense
28. God / A. Divine Nature / 2. Divine Nature
God is nowhere, and hence everywhere
     Full Idea: The divinity is everywhere because it is nowhere.
     From: Porphyry (Launching Points to the Realm of the Mind [c.280], 6Enn5 43)
28. God / C. Attitudes to God / 2. Pantheism
Everything existing proceeds from divinity, and is within divinity
     Full Idea: All things that possess or do not possess existence proceed from divinity, and are within divinity.
     From: Porphyry (Launching Points to the Realm of the Mind [c.280], 6Enn5 43)
     A reaction: Nice to see Porphyry endorsing Meinongian objects. I doubt whether he counts as a pantheist, but this is a very pantheistic remark.
29. Religion / D. Religious Issues / 2. Immortality / b. Soul
Individual souls are all connected, though distinct, and without dividing universal Soul
     Full Idea: Individual souls are distinct without being separated from each other, and without dividing the universal Soul into a number of parts; they are united to each other without becoming confused.
     From: Porphyry (Launching Points to the Realm of the Mind [c.280], 6Enn4 39)
     A reaction: This sounds like Jung's theory that there is a universal subconscious which links us all together. Taken literally, I assume it is nonsense. As an invitation to acknowledge how much we all have in common, it is a nice corrective to liberal individualism.
Nature binds or detaches body to soul, but soul itself joins and detaches soul from body
     Full Idea: Nature binds the body to the soul, but it is the soul herself that has bound herself to the body. It, therefore, belongs to nature to detach the body from the soul, while it is the soul herself that detaches herself from the body.
     From: Porphyry (Launching Points to the Realm of the Mind [c.280], 1Enn9 2)
     A reaction: Baffling. What happens if there is a conflict? I suppose either party can cancel the bargain, but who wins when they disagree?