On Plato, Buddhism and writing a book: we interviewed author Dr. David J. Yount on his latest publication Plotinus The Platonist: A Comparative Account of Plato and Plotinus’ Metaphysics.
1. What particular areas of philosophy interest you and why?
Ancient philosophy has interested me for years, actually, after I earned my B.A. in philosophy. I perceived a connection between the philosophies of Plato and Plotinus, and the initial main motivation for my earning a Ph.D. in philosophy was to be able to write a book on the similarities between Plato and Plotinus, and be taken seriously. I think Plato does an excellent job of laying out possible philosophical views in his dialogues, but then shooting down the improbable or implausible views along the way.
I appreciate how enthusiastic Plotinus is in his philosophy, to urge us toward knowing or uniting with the One.
In addition, I am very interested in Buddhism, especially reading the early texts, and trying to see how much I can compare and liken early Buddhism to Plato and Plotinus’ philosophies. I think philosophy of religion has a lot of interesting and important arguments, so I spend some time on those as well.
2. How would you describe your book in one sentence?
I argue that Plotinus does not differ with Plato on any essential claims that Plato makes in his dialogues, including the One or Good, Intellect or Nous (including God, gods, and the Forms), the All-Soul, emanation, and matter and evil.
3. When did you start researching for this book?
As I said, I had already had the idea to write this book before I went to graduate school (in 1990) when I studied Plato’s philosophy in graduate school, because I went to, but I began to write this book in February of 2002, when I was at a philosophy conference on Plato, and one of the scholars claimed that we needn’t read Plato’s statement that the Good was beyond being mystically. I decided there and then to start writing it, so I spent a lunch hour of the conference beginning to write it, and it really took off from there.
4. Which part of writing a book have you enjoyed most?
When I began writing my argument that the First Hypothesis of the Parmenides is best interpreted as the Good in Plato’s Republic, all I knew was that I wished to argue that thesis, but had not argued out every claim and looked over each of the claims made in the relevant section of the Parmenides. And I must say that I was going to be willing to admit that I could not argue that I was not going to be able to argue for my thesis. However, much to my inspiration, pleasure, and amazement, I was able (to my mind, but I will let the readers decide for themselves) to be able to argue for my thesis. It was a great experience.
One more example was when I would read something in Plotinus, but would think to myself, “Huh, I don’t know where Plato says anything like this – I might have to just admit in the book that I don’t think that what Plotinus says here can be found in or argued for in Plato. But then I found a passage I wasn’t aware of at the time that I could use to show that I could argue that Plato does make the same kind of claim.
6. Any tips for people reading the book?
Just one: You can read any section you’re interested in first, without reading the whole book in order. The chapters and sections should stand on their own.
7. Where will your research go from here?
I actually have whole chapters on Plato and Plotinus on mysticism, epistemology, and ethics, and I hope to publish those as well.
8. If you could have dinner with one philosopher, living or dead, who would it be and why?
Sorry to violate the rules of the question, but It is a toss up between Plato and Plotinus! I’d like to have dinner with Plato, because I’d like to see if I have properly interpreted his writings in general, and to ask him about whether I would have been kicked out of his Academy for telling a joke. And I would like to have dinner with Plotinus, because he seems like an excellent human being, and I’d like to get life advice from him.
Plotinus the Platonist is now available globally in hardback.