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Porphyry (c.233–309 AD)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-A093-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 17, 2024, from

Article Summary

The late ancient philosopher Porphyry was one of the founders of Neoplatonism. He edited the teachings of Plotinus into the form in which they are now known, clarified them with insights of his own and established them in the thought of his time. But, in reaction to Plotinus, he also advanced the cause of Aristotle’s philosophical logic. Indeed, Porphyry is responsible for the resurgence of interest in Aristotle, which continued to the Middle Ages and beyond. Because of Porphyry, later Greek philosophy recovered both its Platonic and its Aristotelian roots, and Neoplatonism aimed to combine inspired thought with academic precision.

He was a scholar of great learning, with interests ranging from literary criticism and history to religion. An example is his defence of vegetarianism, which anticipated the modern debate on ecological preservation. Humans and animals belong to the same family. Seeking to preserve life is a matter of extending philanthropy and respect to all living species, which are our natural siblings. Ideally we ought to display ‘harmlessness’ even towards plants, except that our bodies, being composite and mortal, need to consume something else for food. Thus we should be ever conscious of the destructive effect that our eating habits and consumerism have on the creation of which we are part, and should try to keep to a simple lifestyle.

Porphyry’s attention to logic, metaphysics and all other topics was driven by his firm belief that reason exercised by pure mind leads to the true essence of things, the One God. Intellectual activity detaches the soul from passions and confusions, and concentrates its activity on the real things. Porphyry attacked Christianity and Gnosticism because he thought they appealed to the irrational. Mysteries and rituals are fitted for those who are unable to practise inward contemplation. Salvation comes to those leading the life of the philosopher-priest.

Citing this article:
Siorvanes, Lucas. Porphyry (c.233–309 AD), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-A093-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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