Monday, February 7, 2011

Pico and Plotinus


Pico draws for his angelology not only from the Late Neoplatonists who theorized about angels and henads, Iamblichus and Proclus, but also from Plotinus who inaugurated the Neoplatonic tradition and theorized about the Intelligible which Pico equates with Angelic Mind.

Pico criticizes Ficino's reading of Plotinus most clearly in the Commento. Here we see the groundwork of his Plotinian take on Angelic Mind. The decisions Pico made in selecting these few conclusions from a philosopher he respected so greatly deserve our attention as an important moment in his philosophical development. The Enneads are a huge text, and while Pico draws a large number of conclusions from Proclus he draws a relatively smaller number from Plotinus. Allen criticizes Pico's understanding of Ficino's Plotinian errors, but allows that rather than misunderstanding or deliberately misrepresenting Plotinus, Pico may be “radically simplifying” him. In his more mature “On Being and Unity” we will see Pico taking a Thomistic-Aristotelian position on Dionysius against Ficino's Proclan position on Dionysius—is this the way Pico understands the “Plotinian theology” of that important phrase “God is not Intellect?” That is to say, is Pico criticizing Ficino for not making the same ontological decisions about Neoplatonism as Aquinas, who found that Dionysius everywhere follows Aristotle? Pico sees the Christian meaning of Plotinus, at any rate, as expressible in a much simpler form than the many ontological principles of Proclus. He uses an idealized Plotinus to build his own Christian Platonist model of Angelic Mind in the thought experiment of Commento and angelic exegesis of Heptaplus. Just as philosophers today might admire Dionysius for his own resonances with the Plotinian rather than the Proclan take on mystical unity, so does Pico have a special admiration for the simplicity of Plotinus.

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