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A History of Philosophy in Epitome by Schwegler

The emanation theory of the new platonists


THE EMANATION THEORY OF THE NEW PLATONISTS.--Every emanation theory, and hence also that of the New Platonists, considers the world as the effluence of God, and gives to the emanation a greater or less degree of perfection, according as it is nearer or more remote from its source. They all have for their principle the totality of being, and represent a progressively ascending relation in its several parts. Fire, says Plotinus, emits heat, snow cold, fragrant bodies odors, and every organic thing so far as it is perfect begets something like itself. In the same way the all-perfect and the eternal, in the overflowing of his perfection sends out from himself that which is also eternal, and after him, the best, viz., the reason or world-intelligence, which is the immediate reflection and image of the primal one. Plotinus abounds in figures to show how the primal one need lose nothing nor become weakened by this emanation of reason. Next to the original one, reason is the most perfect. It contains in itself the ideal world, and the whole of true and changeless being. Some notion may be formed of its exaltation and glory by carefully beholding the sensible world in its greatness, its beauty, and the order of its ceaseless motion, and then by rising to contemplate its archetype in the pure and changeless being of the intelligible world, and then by recognizing in intelligence the author and finisher of all. In it there is neither past nor future, but only an ever abiding present. It
is, moreover, as incapable of division in space as of change in time. It is the true eternity, which is only copied by time. As reason flows from the primal one, so does the world-soul eternally emanate from reason, though the latter incurs no change thereby. The world-soul is the copy of reason, permeated by it, and actualizing it in an outer world. It gives ideas externally to sensible matter, which is the last and lowest step in the series of emanations and in itself is undetermined, and has neither quality nor being. In this way the visible universe is but the transcript of the world-soul, which forms it out of matter, permeates and animates it, and carries it forward in a circle. Here closes the series of emanations, and, as was the aim of the theory, we have been carried in a constant current from the highest to the lowest, from God to the mere image of true being, or the sensible world.

Individual souls, like the world-soul, are linked both to the higher and the lower, to reason and the sensible; now bound with the latter and sharing its destiny, and anon rising to their source in reason. Their original and proper home was in the rational world, from whence they have come down, each one in its proper time, into the corporeal; not, however, wholly forsaking their ideal abode, but as a sunbeam touches at the same time the sun and the earth, so are they found alike in the world of reason and the world of sense. Our calling, therefore--and here we come back to the point from which we started in our exhibition of New Platonism--can only be to direct our senses and aspirations towards our proper home, in the ideal world, and by asceticism and crucifying of the flesh, to free our better self from its participation with the body. But when our soul has once mounted up to the ideal world, that image of the originally good and beautiful, it then attains the final goal of all its longings and efforts, the immediate union with God, through the enraptured beholding of the primal one in which it loses its consciousness and becomes buried and absorbed.

According to all this, the New Platonic philosophy would seem to be a monism, and thus the most perfect development of ancient philosophy, in so far as this had striven to carry back the sum of all being to one ultimate ground. But as it attained its highest principle from which all the rest was derived, by means of ecstasy, by a mystical self-destruction of the individual person (_Ichheit_), by asceticism and theurgy, and not by means of self-conscious thinking, nor by any natural or rational way, it is seen that ancient philosophy, instead of becoming perfected in New Platonism, only makes a despairing leap beyond itself to its own self-destruction.

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