Γενέσθω θεοειδής πᾶς: Likeness to God in Plotinus and Plato

Bennett Foster

Abstract


ABSTRACT: On his deathbed, Plotinus spoke his last words, “I am striving to give back the Divine in myself to the Divine in the All.” This brief remark encompasses what Plotinus understood to be the principal goal of the Platonic philosophy: the return to God.
In the Enneads, this goal manifests as the ethical ideal of Likeness to God (ὁµοίωσις θεῷ). As Plotinus himself would insist, however, his ideas are by no means pure innovation: his reliance on Plato is evident throughout the Enneads. Several Platonic
dialogues, including the Theaetetus, Phaedo, Republic, Timaeus, and Symposium, seem to have informed Plotinus’ ethical views and their connection to Likeness to God. While this idea has recently gained some attention in contemporary scholarship as having a legitimate presence in Plato’s dialogues, Plotinus has been given little credit for his comprehensive elucidation of Likeness to God in the First Ennead. This paper is my attempt to promote a richer understanding of Likeness to God by revealing the considerable depth and dimension of Plotinus’ treatment of the doctrine. I will elucidate four aspects of Likeness to God as found in Plotinus’ treatises on virtue, dialectic, happiness, and beauty, and will further connect Plotinus’ views to the Platonic dialogues from which they seem to derive. In this way, I hope to show that Plotinus offers a much greater contribution to an understanding of Likeness to God, the telos of the Platonic
philosophy, than is often recognized.

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