The exchange began from a remark Bob made to somebody else about Gods in the late pagan Platonists. Bob's interlocutor had suggested that they were not to be taken as mere metaphors, to which Bob responded that, e.g., "psychical Gods" are not to be taken as metaphors, but nevertheless are
part of the process of emanation and return, in which the higher stages are clearly more "really real" than the lower, more diverse and material stages. So the disparate "souls" that you take to be "literally" reincarnated and so forth, seem to me to be clearly less real than Soul as such, not to mention Intellect and the One. Thus whatever experience "you" or "I" have when we die, must presumably (for Plotinus and all of his successors) be one of learning, to some degree at least, how unreal our separateness as "you" and "I" was. Similarly, I presume, the multiplicity of the intelligible and psychic "gods" is less real than their unity in Intellect and the One.
I responded first to Bob's claim that, e.g., "psychical Gods" are psychical, "intellective Gods" intellective, and so forth:
No, they aren't. According to Proclus, Gods active on whatever plane of Being are still supra-essential henads. "Psychical" Gods, e.g., are not called this because they are themselves psychical, because they are not even strictly speaking *beings*. Rather, these classes of Gods have these designations because those planes of Being are the *products* of their divine activity.
Thus, for example, Proclus emphasizes in the sixth book of the Platonic Theology that even the assimilative Gods, who are responsible for the assimilation of beings to the forms in which they participate, surely a "lowly" enough function for those who would see it in those terms, that "with respect to their existences [huparxeis] they [the Gods in question] are beyond essence/substance [ousias] and multiplicity, whereas it is according to the participations of them that receive an illumination of this kind that they are so called," (PT VI 16. 79.7-10).
Accordingly, even the "lowest" God is "higher" than Being Itself, if one is going to speak in these terms. This is reflected in the Elements of Theology props. 161-165, in which we read that the ontic hypostases of Being, Intellect, Soul and Body *participate* the corresponding classes of Gods, and hence, e.g., "All those henads are intellectual whereof the unparticipated Intelligence enjoys participation," (prop. 163) and "All those henads are supra-mundane whereof all the unparticipated Soul enjoys participation," (prop. 164).
Bob graciously conceded my technical points, then asked whether I didn't, nevertheless, agree with the latter part of the paragraph of his that I quoted above. I responded as follows:
I'm afraid not, Bob. My argument has always been that while ontic multiplicities are reducible in this fashion, henadic (all-in-each) multiplicity is not; and moreover, that there is a sense in which henadic individuality, that is, existential uniqueness, is a state shared even by beings such as ourselves. As the principle of individuation, the One is not a unity into which lesser realities vanish; this is to construe it after the fashion of ontic principles, to which things are reducible, but always, of course, in some particular respect: souls qua soul, intellects qua intellect, and so forth. The One, however, as the absolute principle, cannot be the object of an absolute reduction, at least not as I read it; for one thing, I fail to see how the One would then be meaningfully distinct from Being.
In his next post, Bob asked for further elaboration. The pieces of his message I'm responding to are in italics. Needless to say, I'm not doing justice to the broader points Bob was making in the larger exchange with other interlocutors into which this dialogue with me was inserted.
I certainly wouldn't want to say, and wouldn't expect Plotinus/Proclus to say, that lesser realities "vanish" into the One. I would expect them to say that lesser realities have less reality than the One has; that their reality depends upon that of the One; just as images have less "real reality" than Forms.
I think that you are not taking proper account of Platonic "optimism" with respect to the procession of Being. Each procession is Good and on account of the Good. A body is not "less real" than the One qua body, it simply has the kind of unity and the manner of being that is appropriate for this plane of being, which, insofar as it is supposed to be the site for transitory expressions of form, is doing exactly what it ought to.
But there is a bigger problem, it seems to me, in how you are approaching this, namely what it means to say that something's reality "depends upon that of the One". I would agree with this, but I mean something completely different by it, I suspect, than you do. I mean by it that every iterable (repeatable, instantiated) quality of an entity depends upon the non-iterable existence (hyparxis) of that entity. You, on the other hand, seem to use it to privilege over the existence of each entity an hypostatized or reified abstract entity to which it "owes" all it has on account of a sort of sheer eminence of "reality".
The relation to the principle of individuation cannot be assimilated to that between Forms and images, however. The image of a form has its being, qua instance of that form, in that form, not in itself; the unit, by contrast, cannot be said to have its unity in the One, because this would be to undo exactly what the One does: it makes this one thing the individual that it is. This is a measure of how the superior principle imparts more perfectly to the participant that which it has to give. Hence the eminence of the One is manifested precisely in its NOT being a one-over-many OR a one of which the many are parts, aspects, faces, et al.
As for existential uniqueness, I have no doubt that you and I possess that. What we lack, I take it, is full individuation and the "real reality" that goes with it. And when we fully appreciate this lack, we will appreciate that we aren't separate from each other in the way that common sense assumes we are, that is, absolutely.
First, I must note that you treat existential uniqueness as a very lowly quality, as the sum of contingent and material factors. And this is true in a sense, but it is a very important Platonic principle that the lowest phenomena are the manifestations of the highest principles. Therefore, the difference that we call merely "numerical", just insofar as it falls below the threshold of formal difference, expresses the action of principles *superior* to form.
This alterity is present at its purest among the Gods, but the Gods possess an individuality far superior to our own in that they are autarchic (on this divine attribute, see especially chap. 19 of book I of the Platonic Theology, and on the universal divine attributes in general chaps. 13-29 of book I).
As beings, however, we are indeed much less individual than the Gods, because all of our iterable qualities--e.g., "human"--are by that very fact parts of other wholes, whereas the Gods are generative of all such wholes. Qua body, I am part of the whole of matter; qua soul, part of the whole substance of Soul. However, the latter already exhibits a superior form of individuation than the former. So I am more individuated as a soul than I am as a body. The common view may see a soul as *less* individuated, because it is invisible. But they nevertheless recognize that bodies all behave alike to a much greater degree than souls do.
At the level of Intellect, we can account for the individual even better, in the sense that we can see them as the sum of all their essential and accidental qualities, and arrive at *virtual* uniqueness--that is, indiscernibility--in this fashion. The Aristotelian, indeed, goes no further.
What lies beyond? We get the first taste of it in Plato quite early on, if we think of the Phaedo as an "early" dialogue: behind the form lies the cause, the form-bringer of the final argument in the Phaedo; this "cause" shows up again much later as the fourth genus in the Philebus, alongside limit, the unlimited, and the mixture. In the Phaedo, the question of this principle is already posed, due to the dialogue's context, in such a manner as to rule out any mere essence or whatness: the question is not Socrates qua human, but Socrates qua Socrates.
The doctrine of metempsychosis here serves a function much like that of eidetic variation in Husserl; if "Socrates", that is, the causal agency responsible for the taxis (Rep. 618b), or class of essential and accidental characteristics, that we know as Socrates, is thinkable as once having been the son, not of Sophroniscus, but of someone else altogether, or even a swan, or a lion, and being something else again in the future, then we are capable in some respect of thinking of this individual in his unique unity beyond any iterable quality whatsoever, as a pure agency, a pure power of choice definable only negatively insofar as we attempt to determine it as some bundle of form-instances rather than in its positivity as a form-bringer.
This line of thought, I submit, is the substantive correlate in Plato to the formal inquiry into unity in the Parmenides; it is, as it were, the thought-experiment that substantiates as a positivity the pure concept of unity adumbrated in the Parmenidean dialectic in its negativity, and which in turn depends upon that concept for its articulation. The negativity of the first principle is a matter, therefore, not of eminence, but of conceptual necessity.