Plato, the Poet and Change

Plato believed that art is essentially mimetic and used ‘mimesis’ in different ways to express what the product of a craftsman is on a scale of diminishing degrees of reality and knowledge (from knowledge [pure thought and reason] to opinion [belief and illusion]), in relation to the true objects of knowledge – the Forms. Using the example of a bed: the eidos of Bed, made by the god is a unique, eternal and unchanging and therefore fully real essence, embodied in all beds.

A bed made by a carpenter participates in the essence of Bed, but because it is in the world of change, is less real. An artist’s painting of the bed is a mere image or illusion because it is only of the appearance of the bed – the bed painted from one perspective, as though seen in a mirror – so the painting is thrice removed from true reality and knowledge. Similarly, the mimesis produced by the poet (who creates pictures with words) is the re-presentation of life – mere imitation.

While an artist can paint a bit and bridle he does not understand the form that is proper to these objects, he has neither knowledge nor correct belief of what he depicts because he has no experience of them. The smith and leather-worker can make them – but even they don’t have the understanding of them that the horseman has. As with the soul, the tripartite Platonic divisions apply in the arts: here – the art of use, the art of making and the art of representation. The implied equation between ‘art of use’ and (knowledge of) eternal reality is on the basis of ‘complete engagement with’ – developed in Neoplatonism. The poet is the counterpart of the painter – their work too is thrice removed from reality, for the same reasons. The poet knows nothing more than their own craft – how to re-present appearances. They have no knowledge on the basis of experience of what they write about but employ their mere imagination.

Plato held that the only poetry that should be allowed in the commonwealth is that which praises the gods and ‘good’ men. He had particular hostility to ‘imitative’ poetry because it was to this that the Greeks had traditionally looked for moral and intellectual guidance (his prime target was Homer). He wanted to establish philosophy as that sole source, denying not only the parallels between poetry and philosophy – that they were both art forms that could be literary and pedagogical, but also the cognitive potential of poetry and the arts. He believed that ‘wisdom’ could be gained not through the study of the poet’s portraits of heroes but only through rigorous dialectic.

He argued that whereas (his) philosophy had as its summum bonum true knowledge on the basis of reason’s engagement with what was most real through strict training, the poet’s (particularly tragic) aim was to appeal to the ‘non-rational’ part of the soul and the arousal of emotion in their audience, on the basis of the poet’s imitation of appearances. The experience of the emotions aroused would then carry over into the daily lives of the citizens, to their detriment.

What was particularly threatening to Plato (because of his sensitivity to and capacity for inspiration and his determination to deny lived emotions and change with his controlled, rationalist system, and whom Guthrie correctly described as a philosophical theologian) was that the poet is ‘divinely inspired’. Poets work from inspiration not (linguistic) reason, they don’t understand the meaning of their language, they present a semblance of life with no grasp of reality. Such poetry, like all art, is play and not to be taken seriously. Thus Plato argued that the poet should be not allowed into a just commonwealth ‘because he stimulates and strengthens an element which threatens to undermine the reason.’

Driven by his antipathy to change and his incapacity to accept its necessity and by the manifestation of this in his division and opposition between ‘reason’ and ‘emotions’, Plato banished from his republic (from what was in effect his model for the perfection of self) that which, as evidenced by his own writing, he had the deepest appreciation of – poetry – and those whose business it was – including, by implication and most particularly, himself.


The Man of Reason: Part Nine

The conclusion of the Republic with the myth of Er reveals Plato’s belief in the (truth-revealing) power of imagination. By his own criteria, Plato himself would have been banned from his Republic.78

In her essay Lloyd wrote that ‘the seventeenth century rationalists were aware of the limited, and limiting, character of systematised reason’,79 that this reason could not reflect the flux of consciousness. In her treatment of Romanticism, she commented that the emotions are a motivating force in their own right.80 Further, that intuition is associated with female thought styles and ‘deserves to be part of a constructive assessment of the claims and the ideals of reason.’81 In her book The Man of Reason, she wrote ‘the hierarchical relations between reason and its opposites – or between higher and lower forms of reason – have undoubtedly contributed to the devaluing of things associated with the feminine.’82

Plumwood’s discussion of the relevance of emotions to reason is most valuable. She argued for a critiquing of the dominant forms of reason to redefine or reconstruct them in less oppositional and hierarchical ways and for an affirmative assessment of emotion as being both crucial and creative. She wrote of reason and emotions as capable of a creative integration and interaction and ties an inclusion and respect for the emotions to the development of rationality and ethics.83

There is no marker in the brain with the words ‘Emotions please move quietly to the left, Reason, you may go to the right.’ Reason and emotion are inseparable. Lloyd wrote of higher and lower forms of reason, Plumwood of the overcoming of opposition and hierarchy. I propose a scale of cognition – at the ‘lower’ end, those elements to which Ilyenkov referred:

‘It was necessary to go even further back, to uncomprehended contemplation, sense perception, aesthetic intuition, i.e. to the realm of lower forms of consciousness (lower, that is, in relation to conceptual thinking), where there was really no contradiction for the simple reason that it had still not been disclosed and clearly expressed.’84

Together with this, dreams, general intuitions, and ‘above’ – conscious cognition.

The gulf in theory between reason and emotion has its paraphrase in the distinction between philosophical idealism and idealism. Was not the founder of objective idealism idealistic? How rational is it that there could be a heaven above or on earth, how rational the desire, justified by God, to have complete mastery of one’s ‘mind’ or of nature?

I define idealism as the inspiration towards that which is felt to be higher than, and argue that much of this brain function has been appropriated to Reason itself through definition – ‘(philosophical) idealism is the thought that…’,  thereby severing that part from its source, ‘below’ rationality, denying the non-rational. In so doing, Reason and rationalisation are inter-changeable.

Reason as philosophical idealism and ‘non-intellectual’ elements as idealism have both had an immense impact on life. They are driving forces and sources of creative power. What is necessary is that their material basis and inter-relationship in life is reflected in theory. In his ‘Conspectus of Hegel’s Science of Logic’ Lenin wrote:

‘The thought of the ideal passing into the real is profound: very important for history. But also in the personal life of man it is clear that this contains much truth. Against vulgar materialism. N.B. The difference of the ideal from the material is also not unconditional, not excessive…The Idea is Cognition and aspiration (volition) [of man]…The process of (transitory, finite, limited) cognition and action converts abstract concepts into perfected objectivity.’85

Lenin argued that the absolute exists within the relative and is revealed through the development of the ideal in reality by practice.

Sexless Reason has not only been conceived as a transcendence of the feminine, not even of the male, but of life, of matter. The heavens are reflected in the gutter, as Tolstoy thought – but they exist only as elements of the material world. Much has been achieved despite the Man of Reason. He is bare. His upholding is a dissipation and distraction of energy from addressing the reflection in theory of the inter-relationship of reason, the emotions and elements ‘below’ consciousness in practice. His function is the justification and maintenance of division, exploitation and oppression. What is needed for the Man of Reason is not the realisation of his limitations as a human ideal, but the realisation of his passing, in order that men and women alike might come to enjoy a more humane life, free of the dualisms that have developed in his shadow.



78. This same dichotomy can be seen in Marx’s life. Failing to unite science and art in his dialogue ‘Cleanthes’, which also carried him ‘like a false-hearted siren into the clutches of the enemy’, (my italics) Marx (who developed his epistemology primarily on Hegel’s philosophy) abandoned poetry for philosophy in which he hoped to discover ‘our mental nature to be just as determined, concrete, and firmly established as our physical’. In E. Fischer, The Necessity of Art, A Marxist Approach, Trans., A. Bostock, 1959, reprint. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986, 4. In his doctoral thesis of 1841 he wrote ‘In order for man to become his only true object, he must have crushed within himself  (my italics) his relative mode of being, the force of passion and of mere nature’. (Ibid.) Lenin, Gorky and Lunacharsky wrote that although Lenin loved music, to listen to it disturbed him very much. In Lenin on Literature and Art, Progress: Moscow, 1978, 270, 284, 285. Trotsky also admitted to ‘resisting’ art. In M. Solomon, Ed., Marxism and Art, Essays Classic and Contemporary, 1973; reprint. Detroit, 1986, 192.
Hitler, another idealistic male system-builder, this time of the thousand-year-Reich, who once painted reasonable water-colours for a living, stated ‘As long as a people exists, however, it is the fixed pole in the flight of fleeting appearances. It is the being and the lasting permanence. And, indeed, for this reason, art as an expression of the essence of this being, is an eternal monument – in itself the being and the permanence’ From the speech inaugurating the ‘Great Exhibition of German Art’, 1937, Munich, published in ‘Der Führer eroffnet die Grosse Deutsche Kunstausstellung 1937’, Die Kunst im Dritten Reich (Munich), I, 7-8, (July-August, 1937) 47-61, in H. Chipp, Ed., Theories of Modern Art, A Source Book by Artists and Critics., University of California Press, 1968, 478; Plotinus wrote: ‘”Let us flee then to the beloved Fatherland”: this is the soundest counsel.’ In Plotinus, The Enneads., Third ed. Abridged. Trans., S. MacKenna. op. cit. 54

79. G. Lloyd, ‘The Man of Reason’, in Women, Knowledge, and Reality: Explorations in Feminist Philosophy. Eds., A. Garry and M. Pearsall. Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1989, 124

80. Ibid. 125

81. Ibid. 124

82. G. Lloyd, The Man of Reason, ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ in Western Philosophy, London: Methuen, 1984, x (Preface to 1993 edition)

83. ‘The resolution of human/nature dualism is closely linked with the resolution of other closely associated reason/nature dualisms, such as the reason/emotion dualism…We have noticed how emotion is constructed as the opponent and dualised underside of reason, so that it is identified as an unreliable, unreflective, irrational and sometimes uncontrollable force reason must dominate. We should certainly challenge the narrowing and dominating role of reason…Emotion, like other areas reason has excluded, can be treated affirmatively, as a crucial and creative element, but in doing this we affirm neither the irrational nor the anti-rational.’ V. Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, London: Routledge, 1993, 189

84. E. Ilyenkov, Dialectical Logic, Essays on its History and Theory, Progress: Moscow, 1977, 189

85. V. Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 38 (Philosophical Notebooks), Progress, Moscow, 1976, 114, 195

The Man of Reason: Part Eight

Lloyd wrote ‘What is new is the decline in optimism about the eventual victory of reason.’64 An extraordinary statement for a philosopher to make. Why the negativity? Victory over what? ‘Irrationality’? If so, isn’t this the great fear of the Man of Reason?65 Plumwood addressed the issue with pertinent questions – ‘Where does the remarkable set of values enshrined in the Platonic system of thought come from? Why is reason developed in oppositional ways as hostile to nature? The attractions of choosing the shadowy, abstract world of the Forms over the living world of experience are not immediately obvious.’66

A constituent running strongly through the existence of the Man of Reason is his retreat from life. In his Seventh Letter Plato wrote of the experience of his youth:

‘I had much the same experience as many other young men. I expected, when I came of age, to go into politics…When I saw all this (the treatment of Socrates), and other things as bad, I was disgusted and drew back from the wickedness of the times.’67

For Plato and Plotinus, the return of soul to its source is the escape from matter. More than once in his Enneads, Plotinus calls it a flight, an escape. He cited Plato – “ ‘Likeness to God’, he says, ‘is a flight from this world’s ways and things’…”68 Such a proposition, resulting in union with God in solitude is individualist and elitist. It is a doctrine of the salvation of the self from the world. The Enneads conclude:

‘This is the life of gods and of godlike and blessed men, deliverance from the things of this world, a life which takes no delight in the things of this world, escape in solitude to the solitary.’69

Lloyd noted the Man of Reason’s ‘transcendence’ of the feminine,70 Plumwood called it ‘the flight from the feminine’.71

In her essay, Lloyd quotes Descartes from a letter to Princess Elizabeth: “True philosophy teaches that even amid the saddest disasters and most bitter pains a man can always be content, provided that he knows how to use his reason.”, adding ‘His own mastery of reason over the passions, he claims, has cured him of his hereditary dry cough and pale colour and ensured that even his dreams are pleasant.’72 In view of my criticism of the Man of Reason’s flight from the engagement of his complete being in life, Spinoza’s desire to transcend ‘the passions’, hatred, anger, envy, derision, pride, ‘excessive love’, suspicion and enmities can be interpreted as having a more prosaic motive than his Man of Reason would have us believe. This same desire to transcend (escape) ‘the vagaries’ and obligations of life lies at the heart of Neoclassicism, Romanticism and the philosophy of Bergson.

The Man of Reason personifies a rejection of those aspects of ‘mind’ and life which are beyond his control. Poets were to be banned from Plato’s Republic.73 ‘The gravest charge against poetry still remains. It has a terrible power to corrupt even the best characters, with very few exceptions’.74

‘Poetry has the same effect on us when it represents sex and anger, and the other desires and feelings of pleasure and pain which accompany all our actions. It waters them when they ought to be left to wither, and makes them control us when we ought, in the interests of our own greater welfare and happiness, to control them.’75

Yet not only is Plato’s writing, with his notion of eternal Forms and their shadows and his use of simile highly creative, his own writing reveals a rich and idealistic emotional life and a great sensitivity to art  and inspiration:

‘arranged as they are in the plumes of rapid imagination, (poets) speak truth. For a Poet is indeed a thing ethereally light, winged, and sacred, nor can he compose anything worth calling poetry until he becomes inspired, and, as it were, mad, or whilst any reason remains in him…(they compose) from the impulse of the divinity within them’76

His treatment of the ‘divided soul’ is exemplified in the Phaedrus, in which the sexual love of beauty is an inspirational bridge between matter (appearance) and knowledge (of the realm of Ideas):

‘the whole soul of him whose wings begin to grow seethes and throbs with an itching irritation such as is felt in the gums at the forming of the teeth…And as it looks upon the beauty of a boy and particles then come flowing thence upon it, which is called desire, it is warmed and refreshed, it is relieved of its pain and rejoices.’77

Part eight of nine/to be continued…

64 G. Lloyd, ‘The Man of Reason’, in Women, Knowledge, and Reality: Explorations in Feminist Philosophy, Eds., A. Garry and M. Pearsall, Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1989, 126

65 Lloyd argues Hegel’s faith in Reason can be taken not only ‘as the expression of an ideal’, but ‘as an affirmation of faith that the irrational will not prevail. Such a faith may well appear naive; but that does not mean it is bad faith.’ G. Lloyd, The Man of Reason, ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ in Western Philosophy, London: Methuen, 1984, 107

66 V. Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, London: Routledge, 1993, 97

67 Plato, The Republic, Trans., D. Lee. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979, 14

68 Plotinus, The Enneads, Third ed. Abridged., Trans., S. MacKenna. London: Penguin, 1991, 18 (I,2,3)

69 Plotinus, Enneads, Trans., A.H. Armstrong. In seven volumes. London: William Heinemann, 1966-1988, Volume VI, 345 (VI,9,11). Armstrong referred to this as ‘the flight of the alone to the Alone’.

70 G. Lloyd, The Man of Reason, ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ in Western Philosophy, op. cit. 104

71 V. Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, op. cit. 74. Also 112 ‘Descartes is plainly the heir of the Platonic and rationalist flight from and devaluation of the body, nature and the feminine.’ 116 For Plato and Descartes, knowledge is not only freedom from doubt, but also ‘freedom from the body and its deceptions, weaknesses and hindrances, its personal and emotional ties…In Cartesianism, as in earlier rationalism, the excluded and inferiorised contrast of ‘pure’ thought includes much more than the feminine. Its contrasts now include not only animality and the body itself, but also material reality, practical activity, change, the emotions, sympathy and subjectivity.’

72 Descartes to Elizabeth, 6 October 1645, in Descartes Philosophical Letters, Ed. and Trans., A. Kenny. Oxford University Press: Oxford. 1970, in G. Lloyd. ‘The Man of Reason’. op.cit. 118

73 Cf. Rousseau’s exclusion of women from citizenship.

74 Plato, The Republic, Trans., D. Lee. op. cit. 436

75 Ibid. 437

76 Plato, ‘Ion’, Five Dialogues of Plato Bearing on Poetic Inspiration, London, 1929, 7

77 Plato, Phaedrus, In S. Mainwaring. ‘Winckelmann and the Platonic Educative Eros’, Fine Arts IV thesis, University of Sydney, 1988, 65

*   *   *

I will soon begin a series on the philosophy of the Neoplatonist Henri Bergson

The Philosophy of Plotinus: Part Six

Movement and rest in ‘thought’, the most intense activity and stillness in unity

Plotinus called the grasp by Intellect of the immaterial object – their  immediate identity and unity – ‘intuitive thought’.

‘(Intellect)…is the level of intuitive thought which grasps its object immediately and is always perfectly united to it, and does not have to seek it outside itself by discursive reasoning: and we at our highest are Intellect, or Soul perfectly formed to the likeness of Intellect …’1

As with every aspect in his distinction between the universe of matter and the senses and the universe in Intellect, Plotinus made the logic of discursive reasoning (which he equated with sense perception) the deficient copy of intuition (dialectic) in Intellect.2

In order to use language, discursive thought has to consider things sequentially, it passes from one point to another, it endlessly divides.3 This is the method of description. Such reasoning is utterly inadequate to address the relationship between soul and the One – it is a hindrance to the love which desires beyond Form. Discursive thought is inseparable from the burden of sensory life. The need to reason thus results in a diminution of the independence of ‘thought’:

‘Does the soul use discursive reasoning before it comes and again after it goes out of the body? No, discursive reasoning comes into it here below, when it is already in perplexity and full of care, and in a state of greater weakness; for feeling the need of reasoning is a lessening of the intellect in respect of its self-sufficiency…’4

Dialectic is the method of Intellect. Dealing with the truths of the higher cosmos, it involves a surrendering to the illumination of God’s light in which Intellect ceases a

‘wandering about the world of sense and settles down in the world of intellect, and there it occupies itself, casting off falsehood and feeding the soul in what Plato calls “the plain of truth,” using his method of division to distinguish the Forms, and to determine the essential nature of each thing, and to find the primary kinds…and then, keeping quiet…it busies itself no more, but contemplates, having arrived at unity. It leaves what is called logical activity, about propositions and syllogisms, to another art, as it might leave knowing how to write…whatever is submitted to it it perceives by directing intuition…’5

Intuitive reasoning ‘is a static activity and a kind of reflection of Intellect…’.6 It is practised separate from the body, because the body would only impede its inquiry.7 It is an activity of our true self in which it moves with a motion which is not bodily but of its own life.8

The desire for a unifying intuition underlies Plotinus’ doctrine. Not only can we intuit being, Plotinus theorised on the direct intuition of the Good:

‘…our power is that of knowing the intelligible by means of the intelligence: but this Entity (the First Existent or The Good) transcends all of the intellectual nature; by what direct intuition, then, can it be brought within our grasp?’9

He answered:

‘But possess yourself of it by the very elimination of Being and you hold a marvel. Thrusting forward to This, attaining, and resting in yourself, seek to grasp it more and more – understanding it by that intuitive thrust alone, but knowing its greatness by the Beings that follow upon it and exist by its power.’10

He believed that any intuition, particularly that of the Good, depends on how much of what is being intuited we have within ourselves. An intuition is a ‘direct intellectual act’, an intellection of self. In being known, the subject is excluded.11 Soul therefore holds that act not as a memory in time, dependent on an external source, which memory can be easily lost, but as a possession of its eternal essence.12

In its intuition in Intellect, Soul looks first to what is a unity and then to what is multiple, to all that is.13 It possesses and becomes the totality of things, but imperfectly. It grasps not a pure unity, but

‘all the intellectual facts of a many that constitutes a unity. For since the object of vision has variety (distinction within its essential oneness) the intuition must be multiple and the intuitions various, just as in a face we see at the one glance eyes and nose and all the rest.
But is not this impossible when the object to be thus divided and treated as a thing of grades is a pure unity?
No: there has already been discrimination within the Intellectual-Principle; the Act of the Soul is little more than a reading of this.
First and last is in the Ideas not a matter of time, and so does not bring time into the Soul’s intuition of earlier and later among them. There is a grading by order as well: the ordered disposition of some growing thing begins with root and reaches to topmost point, but, to one seeing the plant as a whole, there is no other first and last than simply that of the order.’14

Plotinus defined ‘intuition’ as ‘knowledge with identity’.15 It is by such a method that Soul might attain the highest, and a complete unity with the One – in which it cannot distinguish itself.16 He made the greatest possible distinction between Soul’s intellection and the body’s sensory perception:

‘…the Soul is unfailingly intent upon intellection; only when it acts upon this image-making faculty does its intellection become a human perception: intellection is one thing, the perception of an intellection is another: we are continuously intuitive but we are not unbrokenly aware: the reason is that the recipient in us receives from both sides, absorbing not merely intellections but also sense-perceptions.’17

Consciousness is the reflection of the life of Intellect, through the soul’s engagement with body. Plotinus criticised conscious awareness as being

‘likely to enfeeble the very activities of which there is consciousness; only when they are alone are they pure and more genuinely active and living; and when good men are in this state their life is increased, when it is not spilt out into perception, but gathered together in one in itself.’18

Not all outside Intellect seek to attain it because the requisite motives are ‘reasoned’, but all look to the Good because it is before all ‘reason’.



1. Armstrong, op. cit., vol. I, xxi

2. In the analogy of the Divided Line in Bk VI of the Republic, illustrating the relation between the two orders of reality and states of ‘mind’, Plato allowed knowledge by the direct apprehension (vision) of truth through Intelligence (Dialectic) or by Mathematical Reason. Belief and illusion function in the physical realm, giving mere opinion.

3. Plotinus believed that the language of numbers may help us to a direct apprehension of the realities of the intelligible universe and the One.

4. IV,3.18. In a most interesting sentence, implying a relationship between intuition and ‘pre-reason’, Plotinus wrote: ‘And again the reasoning thing is not of that realm: here the reasoning. There the pre-reasoning.’ VI,7.9.

5. I,3.4

6. IV,3.18

7. ‘But what about reasoning and intellect? These no longer give themselves to the body; for their work is not done through the instrument of the body: for this gets in the way if one uses it in rational investigations.’ IV,3.19. Plotinus wrote of his experience of descending from Intellect to discursive reasoning. IV,8.1.

8. Plotinus referred to this as ‘…the superior life of reason…’ III,4.6. Reason functions above chance. Cf. Bergson.

9. III,8.9

10. III,8.10

11. See following note.

12. ‘(A self-intellection is not)…something entering from without, to be grasped and held in fear of an escape…’ IV,3.25. ‘When we seize anything in the direct intellectual act there is room for nothing else than to know and to contemplate the object; the subject is not included in the act of knowing, but asserts itself, if at all, later and is a sign of the altered; this means that, once purely in the Intellectual, no one of us can have any memory of our experience here. Further, if all intellection is timeless – as appears from the fact that the Intellectual beings are of eternity, not of time – there can be no memory in the intellectual world, not merely none of earthly things but none whatever: all is presence. There; for there is no discursive thought, no passing from one point to another.’ IV,4.1.

13. IV,4.1. ‘…the unity of the Soul’s faculty (of intuition) is not incompatible with multiplicity in the object; it does no possess all its content in a single act of thought; each act is incomplete in itself, but all are being constantly exercised; the faculty is permanently there and its effects are external. The object itself is no unity and can therefore harbour a multiplicity which previously it did not contain.’ Ibid.

14. IV,4.1

15. IV,4.3

16. ‘Soul must see in its own way; this is by coalescence, unification; but in seeking thus to know the Unity it is prevented by that very unification from recognising that it has found; it cannot distinguish itself from the object of this intuition. None the less, this is our one resource if our philosophy is to give us knowledge of The Unity.’ VI,9.3. Plotinus distinguished between Soul’s understanding given by contemplation and Intellect’s apprehension of presence: ‘Wisdom and understanding consist in the contemplation of all that exists in the Intellectual-Principle, and the Intellectual-Principle itself apprehends this all (not by contemplation but) as an immediate presence.’ I,2.6.

17. IV,3.30

18. I,4.10

I will soon begin a series on the philosophy of the Neoplatonist Henri Bergson.

The Man of Reason: Part Five

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

37 Ibid

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

The Man of Reason: Part Four

Plato’s Philosopher Ruler was the original Man of Reason and model for those which were put forward later:

‘His eyes are turned to contemplate fixed and immutable realities, a realm where there is no injustice done or suffered, but all is reason and order, and which is the model which he imitates and to which he assimilates himself as far as he can.’25

Although Plotinus made no mention of a philosopher ruler in his Enneads, it is clear that he wrote for such an ideal character:

‘All men from the beginning, as soon as they are born, employ sense-perception before intellect and sense-objects are necessarily the first which they encounter. Some of them stay here and live through their lives considering these to be primary and ultimate…And those of them who claim rationality make this their philosophy…Others have risen a little from the things below because the better part of their soul has urged them on from the pleasant to a greater beauty; but since they were unable to see what is above, as they have no other ground to stand on they are brought down, with the name of virtue, to practical actions and choices of the things below from which they tried to raise themselves at first. But there is a third kind of godlike men who by their greater power and the sharpness of their eyes as if by a special keen-sightedness see the glory above and are raised to it as if above the clouds and the mist of this lower world and remain there, overlooking all things here below and delighting in the true region which is their own, like a man who has come home after long wandering to his own well-ordered country.’26

Lloyd built her argument substantially on the point of Descartes’ method: ‘One of the most striking things that happens to reason in the seventeenth century is the attempt to encapsulate it in a systematic method for attaining certainty. The paradigm for this approach to reason is Descartes’s Regulae, the Rules for the Direction of the Mind, written in 1628…This (method) is the basis for Descartes’s later influential doctrine of clear and distinct ideas.’27

In so doing, she is losing sight of the forest (or the chasm) for the trees. Fundamentally, the issue is the division between ‘mind’ and matter,28 with the body as the point of focus,29 and this division is justified in a range of ways. Key elements, traceable to Plato, recur through western culture – a denigration of this world and life and an extolling of the ‘other’ with its focus on the Good, the One, or a male God; two forms of reason – one for the ‘lower’ world of change, the senses and the emotions, the other relevant to the ‘higher’ unchanging world of ‘Reason’, with Reason being a male potential and everything ‘less’ banished to the female and to be mastered, resulting in the exclusion of women from power; less reality in this world in which the ‘mind’ is somehow trapped in the body, longing for its source, and ‘true’ reality in the ‘other’.

Part four of nine/to be continued…


25. Plato, The Republic, Trans. D. Lee. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979, 297

26. Plotinus, Enneads. Trans. A.H. Armstrong. In seven volumes. London: William Heinemann, 1966-1988, Volume V, 287, (V,9,1). Cf. Spinoza ‘the ignorant man is not only distracted in various ways by external causes without ever gaining the true acquiescence of his spirit, but moreover lives, as it were, unwitting of himself, and of God, and of things, and as soon as he ceases to suffer ceases also to be…Whereas the wise man, in so far as he is regarded as such, is scarcely at all disturbed in spirit, but, being conscious of himself, and of God, and of things, by a certain eternal necessity, never ceases to be, but always possesses true acquiescence of his spirit.’ Spinoza. The Ethics. Trans. R.Elwes. Mineola: Dover,1955, 2 Part V, Prop. XLII, 270.  In G. Lloyd. ‘The Man of Reason’. op. cit. 118

27. G. Lloyd, ‘The Man of Reason’. op. cit.114. Plumwood wrote that in Descartes’ philosophy, ‘A  new role is envisaged for reason, the role of exercising power over the natural world rather than escaping from it or rising above it…the role of becoming the “masters and possessors of nature”. To the alienated human identity of earlier rationalist dualism, in which what is distinctively and virtuously human is above nature, is added the fantasy of complete mastery…It is no coincidence that this view of nature took hold most strongly with the rise of capitalism, which needed to turn nature into a market commodity and resource without significant moral or social constraint on availability.’ V. Plumwood. Feminism and the Mastery of Nature. op. cit.110, 111

28. ‘Platonic philosophy is organised around the hierarchical dualism of the sphere of reason over the sphere of nature, creating a fault-line which runs through virtually every topic discussed: love, beauty, knowledge, art, education, ontology…In each of these cases the lower side is that associated with nature, the body, and the realm of becoming, as well as of the feminine, and the higher with the realm of reason. The timeless, abstract realm of the Forms is separate and maximally distanced from the inferior “world of changes”, of coming into being and passing away…’. V. Plumwood. Feminism and the Mastery of Nature.  op. cit. 81

29. Plumwood noted the anthropocentrism and, descriptively and appropriately, the phallocentrism, of this web of dualisms.  Ibid. 11