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Doctoral dissertation project of Ina Schall

The Principles of Individuals in Plotinus – Between Metaphysics, Biology/Embryology and Transmigration of the Souls (working title)

When asked what the principles of individuality are in Plotinus, the research literature provides mainly two answers. Some researchers claim that in his treatise V.7 [18] “On the question whether there are Ideas of particulars” Plotinus postulates the Platonic Forms as principles of individuals. Others, however, argue that Plotinus defines the so-called logoi as principles of individuality, both in this treatise and throughout his entire writings. The first thesis of Forms as principles of individuals proves to be extremely problematic, since Plato defines Forms in such a way that there can only be Forms of universals. In his works, Plato clearly rejects Forms of individuals by emphasizing that, for example, there may be a Form of Man, but no Form of the individual Socrates. Nevertheless, the thesis persists, since the writing V.7 [18] has often been misleading and inadequately analysed and therefore misinterpreted. Thus, I intend to show in my dissertation with a detailed analysis and a new translation of V.7 [18] that Plotinus here does not postulate Forms as principles of individuals. His intention in this treatise is, firstly, to show that Forms as principles of individuals are incompatible with the doctrine of transmigration and therefore not permissible (V.7 [18] 1). Secondly, he introduces logoi as principles of individuals – a concept which not only explains how individuality is possible despite transmigration (V.7 [18] 1), but also provides a basis on which Plotinus can develop a “revolutionary” embryology (V.7 [18] 2), that coined the entire bulk of Neoplatonic theories on biological inheritance after him.

The central position of the theory of biological inheritance and the doctrine of transmigration for Plotinus’ metaphysics of individuality has not yet been evaluated in research, which is why I shall to focus on these aspects in my research project. Moreover, the Plotinian treatise V.7 [18] is one of the most controversially debated texts in contemporary scholarship on Plotinus. However, there is no comment on V.7 [18] and the existing analyses of the text seldom go beyond the first few sentences of the first chapter so that the positioning of the debate into a greater context is missing. Thus, with my project I aim to close this research gap and bring the heated debate on “Forms of individuals in Plotinus” to a final result.


Short biography

Ina Schall completed her studies of English, Philosophy and Educational Science at the University of Cologne in June 2017. During her studies, she worked as tutor and student assistant (2014-2017) at the Chair of Ancient and Late Ancient Philosophy. Engaging in several projects, she gained practical experience in editorial work, creation of databases and organisation of conferences.

Her interest in Neoplatonism was sparked during the exam thesis, which she dedicated to the Neoplatonic philosopher Plotinus. She continued research on Plotinus first as pre-doctoral scholarship holder of the “a.r.t.e.s. Graduate School for the Humanities Cologne” since October 2017, and later as a Program Fellow of “a.r.t.e.s. EUmanities” since April 2018. The three-year scholarship implies an 18-month research stay at The Catholic University of America in Washington DC. Her research involves ancient concepts of embryology, Platonic doctrine of transmigration, Neoplatonic metaphysics and issues of individuality. The supervisors of the dissertation-project are Prof. Christoph Helmig (University of Cologne) and Prof. Matthias Vorwerk (The Catholic University of America).


Cover photo: E8, known from the preprint “An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything” by physicist Antony Garrett Lisi, is a two-dimensional geometric representation of an 8-dimensional structure. Its goal is to present a complete description of reality. Thus, it offers a serious alternative to string theory. (figure created by J Gregory Moxness; Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E8_(mathematics)) // Portrait photo: Patric Fouad