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SYLLABUS OF LECTURES XX, XXI — ETHICS, RELIGION, AND ESTHETICS

sexta-feira 25 de março de 2022

LECTURES XX, XXI ETHICS, RELIGION, AND ESTHETICS

The connexion of Ethics with Metaphysics became closer all through the course of Greek philosophy, and at its latest stage the fusion is almost complete. For Plotinus  , the course of moral progress begins with the political virtues, which include all the duties of a good citizen ; but Plotinus   shows no interest in the State as a moral entity. After the political virtues comes purification. The Soul is to put off its lower nature, and to cleanse itself from external stains : that which remains when this is done will be the image of Spirit. Neoplatonism enjoins an ascetic life, but no harsh self-mortification. The conflict with evil is a journey through darkness to light, rather than a struggle with hostile spiritual powers. Repentance is not emphasised. The desire to be invulnerable underlies all Greek philosophy, and in consequence the need of deep human sympathy is undervalued. The philosopher is not to be perturbed by public or private calamities. Purification leads to the next stage — enlightenment. Plotinus   puts the philosophic life above active philanthropy, though contemplation for him is incomplete unless it issues in creative activity. We are the activity of Spirit. His disparagement of mere action which is not based on spiritual enlightenment is quite defensible. Free will means spiritual activity ; we are not free until our highest selves are liberated, Freedom does not belong to our desires or passions, nor can we control the general order of the world. But our true selves are not cogs in a machine ; we are the machine itself and the mind which directs it. Exaggerated determinism destroys the idea of causation. Each Soul is a little first cause, and the Universal Soul is above the antithesis of freedom and necessity. Necessity includes freedom. The highest stage — unification — hardly belongs to ethics ; but the noble doctrine that there is progress even yonder, depends on the doctrine of the One. Love, the activity of the Soul desiring the Good, is never transcended. In spite of this, the moral isolation of the sage may be regarded as a defect in Neoplatonic ethics.

The Religion of Plotinus   is really independent of the Pagan Gods and their cultus. He allegorises the myths in the most arbitrary manner. But he believes in the demons, who rule the intermediate sphere between earth and heaven. This was a current belief of the time, which has no inner connexion with his philosophy. Similarly, magic and sorcery, though he dislikes and minimises them, could not be repudiated. Theurgy is no integral part of Neoplatonism ; but the school fell into it later, and even helped to elevate superstition into a dogma* Prayer, especially the prayer of quiet, was the life of religion for the Neoplatonist. All things pray except the One. The mainspring of religion is experimental; faith begins as an experiment and ends as an experience. God is at first an ideal, and at last an atmosphere. Man may worship either the Universal Soul, or the Great Spirit, or the ineffable One. The difference between Neoplatonism and Christianity have often been exaggerated. Augustine   finds all Christianity in the Platonists, except the Incarnation. His criticism remains the most penetrating comparison of the two creeds. The Incarnation and Passion of the Son of God, with the acceptance of suffering for others which those doctrines imply, do not refute the philosophy of Plotinus   ; they complete it. But the attempt of some Christian Platonists to equate the three Divine hypostases of Neoplatonism with the Trinity was not successful.

The Beautiful includes, for Platonists, all that is worthy of love and admiration. It is thus impossible to separate aesthetics from ethics and religion. The beauty of the Soul is to be made like to God. Plotinus   makes an advance in aesthetic theory in refusing to make symmetry the essence of the beautiful. The forms of beauty are the mode in which the Universal Soul stamps the image of itself on Matter. The Soul in contemplating beauty identifies itself with the formative activity of its own higher principle. Art does not copy nature ; it creates, like nature, after the model of the spiritual world. His identification of ugliness with absence of form is less happy. Ugliness is false form. But Plotinus   is again valuable when he finds in art the recognition of hidden sympathies in nature, which enable us to translate beauty into another medium. Most modern writers on aesthetics are indebted to Plotinus  .