Chapter 3. "Authentic Beauty Is Not Sensuous" by Plotinus

Table of Contents
Ideas of Interest from The Enneads
The Reading Selection from The Enneads
Related Ideas
Topics Worth Investigating

Plotinus, Ostia Museum

About the author …

Plotinus (203—270 A.D.) began his study of philosophy in Alexandria in his late twenties. When he was almost forty years old, he joined Emperor Gordian III's expedition against the Persians in order to experience Persian and Indian Philosophy. His philosophical writings were very much influenced by Plato as well as Indian Philosophy; he sought mystical union with the Good or the One. Interestingly, he asked to have two cities in Campania rebuilt by the Emperor Gallienus in order to test the practical applications of governing in accordance with the ideal laws of Plato. The Emperor feared however that the establishment of "Platonopolis" might undermine his authority.

About the work …

In his chapter on beauty in The Enneads[1]Plotinus rejects the Stoic belief that beauty is in the symmetry of things; instead, he believes divine thought or ideal-form is the source of beauty in objects. He describes music, love, and metaphysics are three ways of manifesting the truth of absolute and infinite beauty. Plotinus is sometimes cited as the first philosopher to develop a mystical, romantic Šsthetics. His metaphysics is described as NeoPlatonism—the philosophy that the existence of all things emanates from the Ideal Form of the Good. Reality is not material or physical but composed of objective Ideas.

Ideas of Interest from The Enneads

  1. What does Plotinus describe as the natural beginning to the study of beauty?

  2. Clearly state Plotinus' argument against the belief that beauty is the pattern or symmetry in objects.

  3. According to Plotinus, what is the source of beauty in this world? Why is this so? Also explain how he accounts for the origin of ugliness and evil in the everyday world.

  4. Characterize Plotinus' characterization of man's perceptive faculty—the discernment of the beauty in natural and cultural objects.

  5. According to Plotinus, how does a soul become corrupted?

  6. On Plotinus' view, what is authentic beauty and how is it related to the Good? Is the Good an end-in-itself or a means to an end? Does he characterize love as an end-in-itself or as a means to an end?

  7. Contrast the beauty found through the perceptive faculty and the beauty found through "inner vision." According to Plotinus, how does one develop the ability of inner vision?

  8. How does Plotinus relate the principles of the Good, the Beautiful, the True, with the Divine or God?



Plotinus, "Beauty". In The Enneads. Translated by Stephen Mackenna and B. S. Page. London: Faber and Faber. 1917-1924. First Ennead, Sixth Tractate.