Descartes’ method is based firmly on the development of Platonism and Neoplatonism. Although he did not use the divided soul model of Plato’s later work, Lloyd notes his antithesis between ‘mind’ and matter, his isomorphism between reason, reality and God, his positioning of intellect in opposition to the emotions and down-grading of the senses, and that towards attaining ‘clear and distinct ideas’, ‘shedding the non-intellectual from our mental states is something that demands training’.30
This is precisely what lay behind the education of the Philosopher Ruler in Plato’s Republic:
‘Then would you like us to consider how men of this kind are to be produced, and how they are to be led up to the light, like the men in stories who are said to have risen from the underworld to heaven?’
‘I should like it very much.’…
‘What is at issue is the conversion of the mind from a kind of twilight to the true day, that climb up into reality which we shall say is true philosophy.’
‘Yes, of course.’…
‘Well, Glaucon,’ I asked, ‘what should men study if their minds are to be drawn from the world of change to reality? Now it occurs to me that we said our rulers must be trained…’31
Plotinus, who, like Descartes, considered intuition free of the ‘fluctuating testimony of the senses’,32 providing ‘fresh, spontaneous, unclouded apprehensions of a mind operating in accordance with its understanding of its own nature’,33 recommended a more mystical method:
‘No eye ever saw the sun without becoming sun-like, nor can a soul see beauty without becoming beautiful. You must become first all godlike and all beautiful if you intend to see God and beauty. First the soul will come in its ascent to intellect and there will know the Forms, all beautiful, and will affirm that these, the Ideas, are beauty; for all things are beautiful by these, by the products and essence of intellect.’34
Another variation with a different emphasis through ‘Scientia Intuitiva’ (‘a kind of knowledge superior to reason’) is in Spinoza’s philosophy. Whereas Descartes’ Man favoured the ordered method of systematised reason and ‘clear and distinct ideas’, Spinoza’s Man sought to harness intuition (which ‘gives adequate knowledge of the essences of things and proceeds from an adequate idea of the absolute essence of the attributes of God’)35 and ‘active, intellectual emotion’36 in his desire for ‘detachment from the particular, the specific, the transient, in order to turn (his) attention increasingly to the general, the universal, the unchanging’,37 in the pursuit of his goal – ‘nothing less than the attaining of eternity of the mind’.38
Plato, in his later work (as Lloyd wrote in her book The Man of Reason) recognised both the power and tension in ‘harnessing’ non-intellectual elements to reason.39 Intuition and emotion appropriated by reason – ‘rational emotions’ (to quote Lloyd),40 disembodied passions (in that they are redirected from life), were fundamental means for enabling the soul of Plotinus’ Man of Reason to move to reunite with Intellect and the One. In the Enneads, the more active the soul in contemplation, the closer to stillness and unity with God. As Lloyd stated, ‘what remains with us as the character ideal expressed in (Spinoza’s) Man of Reason is mainly the negative detachment from all that gives warmth and compassion to human existence’.41
Part five of nine/to be continued…
30 G. Lloyd, ‘The Man of Reason’, op. cit. 116
31 Plato, The Republic, Trans. D. Lee. op. cit. 326-327
32 G. Lloyd, ‘The Man of Reason’, op.cit. 116
33 Ibid. 123
34 Plotinus, Enneads. Trans. A.H. Armstrong, op. cit. Volume 1, 261, (1,6,9). This quotation refers both to the simile of the sun in Republic, Book VI and probably to that of the cave in Book VII. The better known quotation from Plotinus on the necessary method for the Man of Reason’s ascension to the realm of Intellect, beautifully translated by MacKenna, is: ‘But how are you to see into a virtuous Soul and know its loveliness?
Withdraw into yourself and look. And if you do not find yourself beautiful yet, act as does the creator of a statue that is to be made beautiful: he cuts away here, he smoothes there, he makes this line lighter, this other purer, until a lovely face has grown upon his work. So do you also: cut away all that is excessive, straighten all that is crooked, bring light to all that is overcast, labour to make all one glow of beauty and never cease chiselling your statue, until there shall shine out on you from it the godlike splendour of virtue, until you shall see the perfect goodness surely established in the stainless shrine.
When you know that you have become this perfect work, when you are self-gathered in the purity of your being, nothing now remaining that can shatter that inner unity, nothing from without clinging to the authentic man, when you find yourself wholly true to your essential nature, wholly that only veritable Light which is not measured by space, not narrowed to any circumscribed form nor again diffused as a thing void of term, but ever unmeasurable as something greater than all measure and more than all quantity – when you perceive that you have grown to this, you are now become very vision: now call up all your confidence, strike forward yet a step – you need a guide no longer – strain, and see.’ In Plotinus. The Enneads, Third ed. Abridged. Trans. S. MacKenna. London: Penguin, 1991, 54-55, I,6,9
35 G. Lloyd, ‘The Man of Reason’, op.cit. 122
36 Ibid. 119
38 Ibid. 118
39 ‘The cultivation of Reason remained at the centre of the Platonic life-style, but non-intellectual elements were now incorporated into the life of the soul, as energising psychic forces on which Reason draws. On the other hand, it also complicated Reason’s struggle for purity. Both aspects of the divided-soul model emerge in the Phaedrus metaphor of the soul as a pair of winged horses, joined together in natural union with their charioteer. One horse is white, noble and easily guided; the other is a dark, crooked, lumbering animal, shag-eared and deaf, hardly yielding to whip and spur.’ In the Phaedrus, Socrates argues that conflicting desires enables the love of wisdom. 21 ‘The later Plato…thus saw passionate love and desire as the beginning of the soul’s process of liberation through knowledge…’ 22 In the Symposium, ‘…in Diotima’s version of the lover’s progress Reason does not simply shed the perturbations of passion but assimilates their energising force. Reason itself becomes a passionate faculty and a creative, productive one.’ G. Lloyd, The Man of Reason, ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ in Western Philosophy, op. cit.
40 Rousseau sought to utilise this potential with his ‘virtuous’ and ‘restrained passion’, on which Reason was to be modelled.
41 G. Lloyd, ‘The Man of Reason’, op.cit. 121