Ken Wilber 2/5

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Jun 5, 1996, 3:00:00 AM6/5/96
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This is what Wilber posted in response:


Ken Wilber's Response to D. H. Frew "Ken Wilber's Treatment of Plotinus in

_Sex, Ecology, Spirituality_ (1995)"

Reply to D. H. Frew

by Ken Wilber (June 23rd, 1995)

D. H. Frew's "pre-view" of my treatment of Plotinus in _Sex, Ecology,
Spirituality_ raises some important and sound points, for which we can all
be
grateful, and also gives us an example of a rather shallow and
narrow-minded
scholar in action, a negative example for which we also can be quite
grateful.
And, to finish it all off, Frew -- on the basis of reading all of 20 pages
-- decides
he has the authority to condemn an entire 800 page presentation, thus
coming
very close to rendering all of his conclusions one small step up from the
noise.

In presenting Plotinus's ideas, I consulted the works of Turnball,
Brehier, Rist,
O'Daly, Wallis, and Karl Jaspers (who was perhaps my favorite
commentator),
and I focused especially on three major translations of his works: A. H.
Armstrong's seven volume series in the Loeb Classical Library, Harvard
University
Press (published in 1966 and revised in 1989); William Ralph Inge's
two-volume
series, originally the Gifford Lished in 1929 (and reprinted
in 1968); and Stephen MacKenna's translations, which he undertook from
1917 to
1930 (now available in a Penguin classics edition and the wonderful Larson

Publication edition).

For various reasons, which I will explain in a moment, I decided that, of
all
these translations, William Inge's had certain advantages. The other
translations seemed to understand better the letter, but not as well the
spirit of Plotinus, and
so even where they excelled technically, they were sometimes rather thin
in their interpretative sweep.

Frew clearly prefers the MacKenna translation, and he simply uses MacKenna

in order to bash Inge. But this is altogether disingenuous. Inge
actually
consulted MacKenna's translations (except for the very last parts, which
MacKenna had not completed at the time), and Inge spoke very highly of
them. Nonetheless, where Inge's translations deviated from MacKenna, he
had his own sufficient reasons, and these sorts of deviations are
explained at length in Inge's extensive notes, which scholars can easily
consult and adjudicate for
themselves.

And thus, instead of getting involved in this battle of technical details
and
technical debate, and instead of performing a mixing and matching and
juggling
act between three translations, I simply chose to go with Inge's
translations. I'll
further explain why in a moment.

But the central point, the crucial point, is that I should give an
accurate portrayal
of Plotinus's ideas. I found all three translations to be in substantial
and
unmistakable agreement as to the essentials, and these essentials I
reported accurately and fairly. Frew does not dispute this; he does not
dispute that I got
the spirit of Plotinus right, even if he disagrees with some of the
technical details.
At one point, Frew even says that my alleged infidelities still support
the main argument. In this case, he is quite right!

Since the main points -- the identical main points -- could be made with
any of
these three translations, why did I choose Inge? I already gave one
reason;
I found Inge to have a deeper spiritual resonance than the others. I love

MacKenna's translation; it is often quite beautiful and always moving, and
I don't
mean to detract from his wonderful and loving effort. Nonetheless, Inge
seems
to intuit a profound depth of realization that comes across clearly in his
work,
and I was drawn to this depth.

The second reason is that Inge was himself an accomplished philosopher,
and
it is often the case that such accomplishment can bring a greater depth
and
wider range of perceptions to an interpretive task, only one of whose
elements
is technical proficiency. Again, I do not wish to detract from MacKenna,
but
he was a bank clerk and a journalist; his sheer love of Plotinus is
evident and
altogether moving; but I also appreciated the background and commentary
that
Inge was able to bring to the task.

The third main reason I chose Inge is that, for a very long time, William
Inge
was the only -- or at least, one of the very, very few -- respected
academic
scholars who believed in the truth of what Plotinus was saying. He was
not
interested in Plotinus as a merely historical curiosity, but rather as the

representative of a profound worldview that still possessed abundant truth
and
goodness and beauty. So respected was Inge that, when Bertrand Russell
was writing his chapter on Plotinus in _A History of Western Philosophy_,
Inge was the only philosopher Russell could think of who believed in
Plotinus:
"A philosophical system," says Russell, "may be judged important for
various
different kinds of reasons. The first and most obvious is that we think
it may
be true. Not many students of philosophy at the present time would feel
this
about Plotinus; William Inge, is, in this respect, a rare exception."
Russell goes
on to refer to Inge's book as "invaluable," and points out that "it is
impossible to disagree with what Inge says on the influence of Plato and
Plotinus."

And that was exactly the topic of the section about Plotinus in my book;
namely, the historical influence of Plotinus. Inge's expertise in this
area was
yet another reason I chose him.

And finally, I simply wanted to pay homage to this rather extraordinary
man, who
for so long kept the light of Plotinus burning when few, if any, were
interested.

And so I chose Inge. I made it very clear that all quotes were from Inge,
and thenceforth, I gave careful citations: the page numbers given in Inge
contain
the exact references to the specific Plotinus material (usually the
Enneads).
All that is required, of a scholar who makes such choices, is that he
carefully
indicate what his sources are. I did do, abundantly, clearly,
unmistakably,
fully.

Since Frew cannot fault me on the spirit of Plotinus, he decides to attack
me
on the letter. But here Frew's prejudice and unfairness also dog his
every step.

Thus, in his very first example of my heinous errors, Frew gives a quote
which
he says I attribute to Porphyry. He then goes to MacKenna's translation,
gives
the Porphyry quote found there, notices that it is not the same as the one
I gave,
and consequently points his finger at me and jumps up and down and
hysterically condemns me to scholar's hell.

If Frew had relaxed and simply consulted the footnote, he would have found
the following: "These are Inge's words paraphrasing Porphyry." This was
the only
case where I used a paraphrase; it was a simple felicitous one and seemed
quite appropriate. But I made very clear that it was such, and the page
for the original
is given, so interested scholars can consult the original and get the
technical
details if they wish. This is not a conspiracy to defraud Mr. Frew of his
technical reading.

Similarly, Frew gets apoplexy when he sees that joined two of Plotinus's
quotes
into one section. The footnotes give the original Inge page numbers, and
any
idiot can see that there are two different quoted page numbers. Can't
Frew
count? And consult the original as clearly indicated? Incidentally,
these two
quotes were put together in one passage because they both have the same
theme: the sacredness of earth and nature. But the footnotes indicate
what's
up.

In every one of Frew's objections, what he ascribes to me is actually
either a
quote or a paraphrase from Inge, and I clearly give the citation for it.
(The
"divine-in-us" interpretation is from both Karl Jaspers and Inge; the
"four
satoris" versus "often" is straight from Karl Jaspers -- he carefully
explains why
-- and I give the citation and page number in one of the notes: again,
scholars
can check the original and decide for themselves).

One of the many alarming aspects of Frew's antics is that in a dozen or so

instances, he first quotes me quoting Plotinus, then he always follows it
with:
What Plotinus actually said was "....", and then, confident he has shown
what
an idiot I am, Frew tosses in, as a type of wonderful bonus, several
snide,
belligerent, arrogant comments such as, hasn't Wilber even read Plotinus?

Were Frew being anywhere near honest or ethical, he would have said,
"Wilber
uses the Inge translation, which reads...., whereas I prefer the MacKenna
translation, which reads...." Instead, Frew simply uses his favorite
translation,
treats it as a monolithic and unchallengeable truth, and then ridicules
any
interpretive moment other than his supremely absolute reading. By any
turn of
the screw, this is less than cricket.

So what it finally comes down to is Inge and the adequacy of his
translation.
But in all cases with Inge, even if there is the occasional technical
shakiness,
the spirit of Plotinus is conveyed vividly and accurately by his
translations, and
Frew never substantially questions this. The one area of Inge's
translations that
Frew does question is very odd, funny even: he accuses Inge of
intentionally
leaving out sections of the Enneads where Plotinus extols the sacredness
of the
earth; Inge does so, Frew maintains, because Inge wants to give Plotinus a

Christian twist and somehow downplay this part of Plotinus. But Inge
includes
so many of these passages (one of which I quote at length), that it is
just as
likely that Inge omitted them due to redundancy. In any case, Frew
concedes
that the section I quote does in fact support the main argument of the
book --
and so once again, the spirit of Plotinus is perfectly honored, even if
Frew hates
the letter of Inge.

So I would summarize: _Sex, Ecology, Spirituality_ is not a book on
technical
details of Greek and Roman translation; it is a book that includes a
modest
section on the general scope of Plotinus's ideas and their historical
influence,
which I presented with accuracy and fairness. Frew did not show one place
that
I presented the main thrust of Plotinus's ideas incorrectly.

Rather, one begins to suspect that Frew has motives of his own for this
virulent
attack. Given his bristle and implicit defense of sorcery and magic, it
is perhaps
not hard to divine what's going on here. (And there's no sign he's
letting up.
Word has it that he's attempting to do the same hatchet-job with my
treatment
of Emerson. Yawn.)

But in any event, it is cruel and unusual to attempt to sabotage an entire
book
on such narrow grounds (not to mention inaccurate grounds at that), and I
can
only hope for a fairer and more judicious reading from kindred souls.

(As for the suggestion that I should have made the reason for my choices
more
clear, I quite agree; accordingly, the above is now a footnote in volume
2.)

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