I’m drunk tonight, and I write with the pleasure of loose mind and looser fingers. Previously this evening I was asked by more philosophically inclined friends to discuss my philosophical outlook and my personal preference for the school of Plotinus and the Neoplatonics, including its different approaches or manifestations.
So I’ll address that to begin with, much as I did for my friend.
The Neoplatonic stream of platonism in late antiquity emerged out of a Middle Platonic stream which did not survive, but was the root of, at least, three very prominent and noticeable cultural expressions.
1. The first is the Gnostic or Christian stream, which saw the material or bodily world as a hostile prison or obstacle containing elements of the ideal world which inhabits the bodies and minds of human beings, but which are constantly struck down by powers and limitations which must be surpassed by a spiritual seeker.
2. The Neoplatonic stream which sees the material world as the observably lowest of a hypostasis of realities or planes of existence emanating from The One, or the central principal which brought existence into being. The Neoplatonists were known for kibitzing about the origin and expansion of The One and how it chose to emanate forth from nothingness, but in general the Neoplatonists stressed a unity of the material with the manifestations of the one, and the option of a more unified vision of reality through contemplation, or, in the case of more religiously inclined pagan intellectuals such as Iamblichus or Damascius, through ritual or ceremonial elevation. In general, the qualities of the hypostases were somehow correlated with manifestations of the gods, though this differed from philosopher to philosopher.
3. The Hermetic School, or the philosophy which produced the Corpus Hermeticum, which manifested as an even lesser presence than Gnostic Christianity. Its place in Late Antique intellectual culture is a little wobbly, but basically the Hermetics believed in a collaboration between matter and mind in the expression of ideas, and that mankind was a co-creator in the divine project of The One within the plane of matter.
In general, I lay somewhere these days between the second and third outlook, though I acknowledge the first as a very valid road of intellectual growth and introspection. I further add to these a sense of diogenean criticism, a self-awareness of the body as a restriction and a point of reference. I am not like the Neoplatonists of old. I don’t want to kibitz about the prime mover, the origin of matter, or anything so far from the body of the sort. Although I acknowledge that human beings can set sail from the bay of contemplation to understand and seek union with The One, I do not think such a union can be voiced intelligibly through the limitations of speech to other people. Therefore, what I am looking for is not the truth, but a true enough. An ethical perspective of the plane we inhabit within the folds and stages of reality.
I believe that the vision of reality as a series of emanations was best grasped by America’s great semiotician, Charles Sanders Peirce in the 19th century. Peirce sought a unified philosophy which could connect the disparate planes of scientific understanding and research: (physical, atomic, molecular, microscopic, naturalistic, astronomical, macroscopic, etc.) and brought these perspectives together through the study of signs, or semiotics. Peirce saw signs as emanations of an image, with differential results based on its interpretant, that differentially effect subsequent planes of observation or existence. I do not think it is coincidence that the Neoplatonist, Iamblichus, also stresses the importance of signs in connecting those on the material plane with the eminence of the gods, or the major hypostatial forces governing reality. Peirce saw all signs as integrated within a wholistic system of cause-and-effect which he termed as “synechism”, the continuous and totalistic chain of signs which generated the image, and it was this synechism of experience, manifested in the history of a human lifetime, which generates the ego. The sense of self is therefore a collection of images stitched together through the experiences of the body.
Thus making this comparison between Peircean Semiotics and Neoplatonism I see mankind as operating within a collaboration of both material and hypostatial forces. Because people are the combination of both the ideals of the images and the physical reality of the body, it makes sense to try to rearrange the material into ways which allow for the further expression of the ideal in our realm of existence. This is why I must elevate the value of equality, in the midst of competing sign-chains and ideologies, above all else. I find the idea that human beings, who clearly hail from a far more complicated imagistic plane, to be subject to the political laziness of the state’s organization of the body to be unconscionable and unpermissible. Therefore I stress the need for social equality and economic equality as an imperative prerequisite for the pluralistic existence and expression of the ideas from which we hail, and even for the healthy competition thereof. I see this perspective of mankind as an utter prerequisite for overall happiness and meaningful living under the organization of power, and I see this as an achievable, though poorly recognized goal, as it has been for past societies, such as the Iroquois, in human history.
It is for the reason of elucidating this truth, and the people of the past who recognized and chose to express it, that I study the past as an archaeologist. In order for this idea to flourish it is necessary to question ideological determinism through the examples of cultural questioning and experimentation extant, if not in history, then in the material record.