From the Alien to the Alone
A Study of Soul in Plotinus
Imprint: Catholic University of America Press
Plotinus is often accused of writing haphazardly, with little concern for the integral unity of a treatise. By analyzing each treatise as a whole, From the Alien to the Alone finds much evidence that he constructed them skillfully, with the parts working together in subtle ways. This insight was also key in translating several central passages by considering the flow of the argument as a whole to shed light on the difficulties in these passages as well as reveal the structure often latent in particular treatise. The volume also serves to clarify Plotinus’ rich use of images. Commentators, for instance, tend to take the images of light and warmth to explain the relation of soul and body as in conflict, with light casting out warmth. A close look at the text, however, reveals that Plotinus uses each image to correct the limitations of the other. Thus, since the soul is incorporeal, it is actually more transcendent than light and as activating the body is more completely present than warmth. Similarly, recent commentators are quick to take the related impassibility of the soul as implying a Cartesian gap between body and soul. The problem Plotinus faces, however, is that his description of the soul’s pervasive presence in the body jeopardizes its impassibility as in the intelligible. His effort then is actually to introduce a gap that preserves the soul’s nature, rather than overcome a gap that would make the very existence of the body problematic.
While this work confirms much recent scholarly consensus on Plotinus, many of Gurtler's interpretations and general conclusions give constructive challenges to some existing modes of understanding Plotinus’ thought. The arguments and their textual evidence, with the accompanying Greek, provide the reader with direct evidence for testing these conclusions as well as appreciating the nature of Plotinus’ philosophizing.
"Gurtler's approach through these themes and their exploration through carefully selected entire treatises allow him to reveal new connections in Plotinus' thought and fresh insights, both in detail and in a larger vision of the shape of his philosophical program. Makes a very significant contribution as a corrective to many often distorted conventional interpretations of Plotinus."~Andrew Smith, University College Dublin
"The most striking and distinctive feature of the book is Gurtler’s method. He neither focuses on the treatises, principally in Ennead IV, that are expressly devoted to the subject of soul, nor constructs a synthetic account based on a synoptic approach to the Enneads. Instead, he addresses selected treatises in their chronological order, providing close, sequential readings with special attention to key passages in their particular contexts and careful dissection of Plotinus’ metaphors and images. In this way he brings to light recurring themes and fundamental principles of Plotinus’ thought in a variety of different applications."~Eric D. Perl, Loyola Marymount University
" From the Alien to the Alone is a brilliant and eminently readable contribution to the study of Plotinian Psychology. An exceptionally lucid guide and an insightful interpreter of this notoriously difficult material, Gurtler aptly navigates Plotinus’s elaborate philosophical system. Soul in Plotinus represents a metaphysical reality extending well beyond the level of the individual self and rooted in the highest levels of reality. Accordingly, Gurtler’s book not only makes contributions to philosophical psychology but offers a clear and compelling reading of Plotinus’ overall metaphysics. Gurtler vividly brings out what is most characteristic of Plotinian thought while convincingly arguing that it puts forward viable philosophical positions. This volume will be useful and accessible for both advanced scholars and for students and students of Plotinus."~Daniel Regnier, St. Thomas More College, University of Saskatchewan
"Gurtler’s decades-long encounter with Plotinus has resulted in a very thoughtful book from a rather unusual perspective."~Thomist