The Position of Dialectic and Analogy in the Theology of Plotinus

Document Type : Research Paper


Associate Professor, Department of Islamic Philosophy and Theosophy, Payame Noor University, Tehran, Iran


Dialectics in philosophy was first used by the philosophers of ancient Greece and was changed by philosophers throughout the history of philosophy, and there is a strong use of analogy in the works of Plato. In Plotinus, dialectics is discussed in the third treatise of the first Enneads, and analogy is also discussed in different cases, especially the fifth Enneads. In studying the language of theology in Plotinus, one can trace dialectic and analogy, as well as negative methods and silence. Much has been said about Plotinus’ negative theology, but the discussion of dialectic and analogy in Plotinus’ theology has been neglected. The question is, what is the place of dialectics and analogy in Plotinus’ theological discussions? Can a connection be made between dialectic and analogy and Plotinus’ theology? In this article, we try to answer the question of the role and position of dialectic and analogy in Plotinus’ theology by elaborating on “dialectic” and “analogy.” No research has been done on the dialectic and analogy of Plotinus, especially on the theology and language of religion.
Dialectic has been used in various meanings, and the purpose of this article is to address the dialectic in Plotinus’ theology and the language of religion. Plotinus deals with dialectic, examining it both as a method and as a science, which pays attention to “truth” and “supreme reality” in both dialectical meanings. In addition to dialectic, he uses the analogy of “king”, “fire”, and “sun” in describing the One. To him, dialectic is the highest part of philosophy and not a tool.
In Plotinus’ theology, dialectics and analogy are used to explain the One in such a way that it discovers both transcendental and ultimate reality and shows the way for the soul to reach that ultimate reality by distinguishing between reason and sensory perception and appealing to and paying attention to reason. This One is
read with different names such as the first cause or “first good”, “final reality”, “transcendence”, and “beyond-thought.” In this way, a re-reading of the negative and positive methods is combined. Negative, either removes positive things that are specific to the stages below the One from the One in a detailed sense and places the One in the highest order; or, negative in itself has a positive meaning for “One” means both negative and positive. Negatively, the One is nothing but itself. The One in a positive way as existence is in a hierarchically distinct from sensible and tangible beings. Thus, in the dialectical method and analogy, both a negative description can be given in a detailed sense for the existence and meta-thought of the One, and a positive description of the One in “cause”, “analogy”, “goodness”, and “perfection” can be obtained. With dialectical and similar reading, the negative (positive) and positive descriptions of the One are not opposed to and are in line with each other.


Banner, N. (2018). Philosophic silence and the ‘One’ in Plotinus. Cambri: Cambridge University Press.
Bussanich, J. (2006). Plotinus’ metaphysics of the One. In E. K. Emilsson (Ed.), The Cambridge companion to Plotinus. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Carabine (1995). The unknown God, negative theology in the Platonic tradition: Plato to Eriugena. Louvain: Peeters Press.
Carabine, D. (2000). Great medieval thinkers: John Scottus Eriugena. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Doyle, J. P. (1969). Suarez on the analogy of being. Modern Schoolman, 46(3), 219-249.
Fathi, H. (1382 SH). Dialectic dar Falsafe-yi Plotinus. Journal of Persian Language & Literature (Former Journal of the Faculty of Literature, University of Tabriz), 186, 1-22. (In persian)
Hines, B. (2008). Return to the One, Plotinus`s guide to God realization, A modern exposition of an ancient classic, The Enneads. Salem: Adrasteia Publishing.
Ilkhani, M. (1385 SH). Nazariye-yi tashabuh dar Yunan. Falsafe, 34(2), 73-92. (In persian)
Kakaie, M. (1399 SH). Nisbat-i Khuda va wujud dar falsafeyi Francisco Swarez bar asas-i kitab-i Mabahithat-i Mabaʿd al-Tabiʿa [doctoral thesis, Allameh Tabatabaie University]. (In persian)
Movahhedi Najafabadi, M. R., & Hakkak, M. (2017). Plotinus’ metaphorical and non-metaphorical explanation of emanation. Journal of Recognition, 9(2), 201-218. (In persian)
Overstreet, H. A. (1909). The dialectic of Plotinus. Berkeley: University Press.
Plato. (1382 SH). Majmuʿa-yi athaar, 4 vols. (M.H. Lutfi & R.Kaviani Trans.). Tehran: Khwarazmi
Plotinus. (1366 SH). Majmuʿa-yi athaar, vol. 1, 2, (M. H. Lutfi, Trans.). Tehran: Khwarazmi. (In persian)
Ralph Inge, W. (1917). The philosophy of Plotinus. London: Longmans, Green and Co.
Robertson, D. (2008). Word and meaning in ancient Alexandria theories of language from Philo to Plotinus. N.p: Ashgate.
Schiaparelli, A. M. (2009). Plotinus on dialectic. De Gruyter.
Smith, A. (2012). Image and analogy in Plotinus. Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy. 27(1), 1-27. doi: 10.1163/22134