David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Phronesis 45 (1):38-63 (2000)
The status of beauty in Plotinus' metaphysics is unclear: is it a Form in Intellect, the Intelligible Principle itself, or the One? Basing themselves on a number of well-known passages in the "Enneads," and assuming that Plotinus' Forms are similar in function and status to Plato's, many scholars hold that Plotinus theorized beauty as a determinate entity in Intellect. Such assumptions, it is here argued, lead to difficulties over self-predication, the interpretation of Plotinus's rich and varied aesthetic terminology and, most of all, the puzzling dearth of references, in the whole of the "Enneads," to a Form of Beauty. A detailed reading of VI.7.32 and 33 reveals that, in these two crucial passages at least, Plotinus adopts an aesthetic approach to the One and that, far from confining Beauty to Intellect, he equates the One, the Good and the Beautiful. This reading is here supported not only by an analysis of the text but also by a consideration of the semantic differences between μορφή and ε[unrepresentable symbol]δος, the inter-relatedness, in Plotinus' philosophy, of the concepts of love and value, and the exclusion of beauty from the πρ[unrepresentable symbol]τα γένη. In turn, the exegesis of VI.7.32 and 33 raises the issue of the significance for aesthetics understood in the narrow sense of the word, of Plotinus's ontology of beauty. It is here claimed that in so far as sensible beauty, both artistic and natural, can be nothing else than an effect of the shaping action of the Forms and a reflection of their radiance, singular or global, it should not be held that Plotinus had an aesthetics in the modern sense of this term.
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