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Plotinus claimed that soul is not a body nor is it dependent on body. But why is the soul in the body at all and how could soul which is immaterial be in multiple bodies? These questions led Plotinus to the position that it is not the soul that is in the body, but the body that is in the soul.

Plotinus writes in the Enneads IV 3 [27] (O'Meara's translation, page 27):

For the universe lies in soul which sustains it, and nothing is without having some share in soul...

According to O'Meara (page 27):

In other words, Plotinus asks us to reverse our normal way of thinking. We should not think of soul as being somehow 'in' body. In this sense the question as to how soul is in body is badly put. Such is the relation between soul and body that we should try rather to conceive of body as being 'in' soul, in the sense that it depends entirely for its organization and life on soul. A similar reversal is brought about when Plotinus, in VI. 4-5, speaks, not of soul 'going' to, or 'descending into', body, but of body as going to, or approaching, soul.

That is the context of my question and the notion of body going 'in' soul is the focus.

The reason I am asking it is because, after reading O'Meara, I don't know what I should read next.


O'Meara, D. J. (1995). Plotinus: an introduction to the Enneads. Oxford University Press on Demand.

Plotinus, Enneads

  • "It is misleading, Plotinus insists, to talk of the soul "descending" into the body. For descent implies a downward movement in space, which the soul never actually experiences (VI:4.I 6). This must be looked upon simply as a manner of speaking; the entry of the soul into the body cannot legitimately be described in spatial terms at all. However, in the spirit of Platonic myth, Plotinus continues to employ the metaphor of descent... the soul beholds its own image in the mirror of matter, becomes enamored of it and plunges downward", Rich. – Conifold Sep 10 '18 at 3:43
  • @Conifold That's an interesting perspective.There were also gnostics associated with Plotinus where this descent idea may be more evident. Thanks for the reference. – Frank Hubeny Sep 10 '18 at 12:39
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Plotinus is a trustworthy guide to this world-view. Further reading could include the Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads, the Tao Te Ching, the Buddhist sutras, Nagarjuna, Al-Halaj, Rumi, Sri Ramana, Sri Aurobindo or indeed any author who endorses and understands the Perennial philosophy.

Recent Western authors would include Erwin Schrodinger, Rupert Spira and Bernardo Kastrup. The latter two do a lot of talking on youtube. Schrodinger makes a stong argument against a plurality of souls and endorses the view of Plotinus and the Upanishads.

You are researching the Perennial philosophy and it may be useful to google 'non-duality' or 'advaita'. Stick to informed sources and not Western scholastic philosophers. This is standard stuff outside the Academy. Mind and Body would be in Consiousness and Consciousness would be All.

If you want to dive in at the deep end I'd recommend Be As You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi ed. David Godman.

  • Thanks for the references. The idea may be more widespread than I realize. I may just have to be aware enough of it to recognize is. My first thought was that the immaterial soul is a kind of field in which body gets its life although I don't want to too quickly go to a modern field interpretation. +1 – Frank Hubeny Sep 10 '18 at 12:44
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    @FrankHubeny - Glad to be of assistance. I think you may be surprised by just how widespread and ancient your idea is. I came into this area of knowledge in the same way - had an idea and then discovered it wasn't mine but ancient. I was quite annoyed at first,. – PeterJ Sep 10 '18 at 14:06
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Personally I would recommend that you read middle Platonists like Galen. The thing to keep your eye on is the relationship between psychē, pneuma, and sarkos as it developed in later Hellenistic philosophy, and the corresponding beast - man - daimon series. Understanding the problem (in classical Greek psychology) that this is supposed to solve will vastly clarify Neoplatonic ontology — that at least was my experience.

If you need reading suggestions in general the circle of scholars around Sorabji did a great job strip-mining the works of the later Neo-Platonists to reconstruct the debates within that school.

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Perhaps on a basic level at birth the body descends from the body of the mother into the soul (air). So literally plunging the body head first into the soul.

The moment of breath is the moment of birth. The words are cognates. And that is not a coincidence.

  • I like the way you have described this metaphorically. +1 And the information about the cognates of breath and birth. – Frank Hubeny Oct 15 '18 at 20:19

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