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Plotinus--On the Intellectual Beauty

        Plotinus defends art against the Platonic charge of being 3x removed from reality (and therefore not only useless, but dangerous). In his view, despite the removal, or distance, of art from the One (the source of ideas/forms) it is "not to be slighted on the ground that they [the artists] create by imitation of natural objects." Instead, the art objects "give no bare reproduction of the thing seen but go back to the reason-principles from which nature itself derives." Art may actually improve upon the natural world: "they [art objects] are holders of beauty and add where nature is lacking."
        Plotinus compares the function of the One as the ultimate source of all things to the function of the artist as a "maker": "All that comes to be, work of nature or of craft, some wisdom has made: everywhere a wisdom presides as a making." The artist is not simply imitating objects which are themselves imitations of the ideas springing from the One. The artist has some concept of the idea available to him: "the artist himself goes back, after all, to that wisdom in nature which is embodied in himself." This statement sounds much like the biological justification made for the Jungian formulation of psychological archetypes; the natural world is itself a reflection of the ideas of the One--we are part of that world, and therefore we are a reflection of the ideas of the One. The artist need not merely copy a bed made by a craftsman; he has the concept of "bedness" available to him already, not through philosophy, but through his very being, his participation in nature.
        In Plotinus, ultimate knowledge lies in the soul's ability to contemplate and grasp the world of forms. OK, here we are still with Plato. Here is the essential difference: Plato sees the world and its products as being separated from the One, mere copies of the ideas of the One. Plotinus--if I am understanding him--sees the world and its products as being part of the One, thus not separated from the One and not to be regarded as valueless distractions from the One. In fact a contemplation of the world's beauty can be the first step toward an eventual contemplation of, and union with, the One. The philosophy is ultimately one of transcendence which does not reify that which is transcended. Art--including poetry--can be a perfectly legitimate path to transcendence.
        The Plotinian metaphysic is hierarchical. Matter emanates from the Soul, which in turn emanates from the realm of intellect or nouV (nous); at the source of all of these things is the One. Matter, as it looks away from the realm of soul, tends to become disorganized matter (the Plotinian roots of Teilhard de Chardin's evolutionary theology are clear to me now); when matter is subject to the direction of soul, it exemplifies harmony and order to the highest degree it is capable of attaining (this is why the physical world is not to be despised in the Plotinian system). To the extent that the soul's attention is focused on matter, it tends to forget itself and become wrapped up in physical desires; but to the extent that the soul turns its attention to the realm of intellect, it is drawn away from merely physical concerns and becomes absorbed in contemplation. The soul, by looking to itself (and here the point Plotinus makes about the artist looking to the forms already present within himself becomes clear) and discovering its higher nature, is led away from the realm of matter to matter's source--the One.