Platonism and neoplatonism
Plato, as the speaker Timaeus, refers to the Demiurge frequently in the Socratic dialogue Timaeus (28a ff.), c. 360 BC. The main character refers to the Demiurge as the entity who "fashioned and shaped" the material world. Timaeus describes the Demiurge as unreservedly benevolent, and so it desires a world as good as possible. The world remains imperfect, however, because the Demiurge created the world out of a chaotic, indeterminate non-being. Plato's work Timaeus is a philosophical reconciliation of Hesiod's cosmology in his Theogony, syncretically reconciling Hesiod to Homer.
In Numenius's Neo-Pythagorean and Middle Platonist cosmogony, the Demiurge is second God as the nous or thought of intelligibles and sensibles.
Plotinus and the later Platonists worked to clarify the Demiurge. To Plotinus, the second emanation represents an uncreated second cause (see Pythagoras' Dyad). Plotinus sought to reconcile Aristotle's energeia with Plato's Demiurge, which, as Demiurge and mind (nous), is a critical component in the ontological construct of human consciousness used to explain and clarify substance theory within Platonic realism (also called idealism). In order to reconcile Aristotelian with Platonian philosophy, Plotinus metaphorically identified the demiurge (or nous) within the pantheon of the Greek Gods as Zeus.
The first and highest aspect of God is described by Plato as the One (Τὸ Ἕν, "To Hen"), the source, or the Monad. This is the God above the Demiurge, and manifests through the actions of the Demiurge. The Monad emanated the demiurge or Nous (consciousness) from its "indeterminate" vitality due to the monad being so abundant that it overflowed back onto itself, causing self-reflection. This self-reflection of the indeterminate vitality was referred to by Plotinus as the "Demiurge" or creator. The second principle is organization in its reflection of the nonsentient force or dynamis, also called the one or the Monad. The dyad is energeia emanated by the one that is then the work, process or activity called nous, Demiurge, mind, consciousness that organizes the indeterminate vitality into the experience called the material world, universe, cosmos. Plotinus also elucidates the equation of matter with nothing or non-being in The Enneads which more correctly is to express the concept of idealism or that there is not anything or anywhere outside of the "mind" or nous (c.f. pantheism).
Plotinus' form of Platonic idealism is to treat the Demiurge, nous as the contemplative faculty (ergon) within man which orders the force (dynamis) into conscious reality. In this, he claimed to reveal Plato's true meaning: a doctrine he learned from Platonic tradition that did not appear outside the academy or in Plato's text. This tradition of creator God as nous (the manifestation of consciousness), can be validated in the works of pre-Plotinus philosophers such as Numenius, as well as a connection between Hebrew and Platonic cosmology (see also Philo).
The Demiurge of Neoplatonism is the Nous (mind of God), and is one of the three ordering principles:
- Arche (Gr. "beginning") – the source of all things,
- Logos (Gr. "reason/cause") – the underlying order that is hidden beneath appearances,
- Harmonia (Gr. "harmony") – numerical ratios in mathematics.
Before Numenius of Apamea and Plotinus' Enneads, no Platonic works ontologically clarified the Demiurge from the allegory in Plato's Timaeus. The idea of Demiurge was, however, addressed before Plotinus in the works of Christian writer Justin Martyr who built his understanding of the Demiurge on the works of Numenius.
Later, the Neoplatonist Iamblichus changed the role of the "One", effectively altering the role of the Demiurge as second cause or dyad, which was one of the reasons that Iamblichus and his teacher Porphyry came into conflict.
The figure of the Demiurge emerges in the theoretic of Iamblichus, which conjoins the transcendent, incommunicable “One,” or Source. Here, at the summit of this system, the Source and Demiurge (material realm) coexist via the process of henosis.
Iamblichus describes the One as a monad whose first principle or emanation is intellect (nous), while among "the many" that follow it there is a second, super-existent "One" that is the producer of intellect or soul (psyche).
The "One" is further separated into spheres of intelligence; the first and superior sphere is objects of thought, while the latter sphere is the domain of thought. Thus, a triad is formed of the intelligible nous, the intellective nous, and the psyche in order to reconcile further the various Hellenistic philosophical schools of Aristotle's actus and potentia (actuality and potentiality) of the unmoved mover and Plato's Demiurge.
Then within this intellectual triad Iamblichus assigns the third rank to the Demiurge, identifying it with the perfect or Divine nous with the intellectual triad being promoted to a hebdomad (pure intellect).
In the theoretic of Plotinus, nous produces nature through intellectual mediation, thus the intellectualizing gods are followed by a triad of psychic gods.