1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Plutarch (philosopher)

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PLUTARCH, of Athens (c. 350–430), Greek philosopher, head of the Neoplatonist school at Athens at the beginning of the 5th Century, was the son of Nestorius and father of Hierius and Asclepigenia, who were his colleagues in the school. The origin of Neoplatonism in Athens is not known, but Plutarch and his followers (the “Platonic Succession”) claim to be the disciples of Iamblichus, and through him of Porphyry and Plotinus. Plutarch’s main principle was that the study of Aristotle must precede that of Plato, and that the student should be taught to realize primarily the fundamental points of agreement between them. With this object he wrote a commentary on the De anima which was the most important contribution to Aristotelian literature since the time of Alexander of Aphrodisias. His example was followed by Syrianus and others of the school. This critical spirit reached its greatest height in Proclus, the ablest exponent of this latter-day syncretism. Plutarch was versed in all the theurgic traditions of the school, and believed in the possibility of attaining to communion with the Deity by the medium of the theurgic rites. Unlike the Alexandrists and the early Renaissance writers, he maintained that the soul which is bound up in the body by the ties of imagination and sensation does not perish with the corporeal media of sensation. In psychology, while believing that Reason is the basis and foundation of all consciousness, he interposed between sensation and thought the faculty of Imagination, which, as distinct from both, is the activity of the soul under the stimulus of unceasing sensation. In other words, it provides the raw material for the operation of Reason. Reason is present in children as an inoperative potentiality, in adults as working upon the data of sensation and imagination, and, in its pure activity, it is the transcendental or pure intelligence of God.

See Marinus, Vita Procli, 6, 12; Zeller’s History of Greek Philosophy; Bouillet, Ennéades de Plotin, ii. 667–668; Windelband, History of Philosophy (trans. J. H. Tufts, p. 225).