“Ennead III: On Providence” by Plotinus


“The wicked rule by the cowardice of the ruled.”

The Artist’s Approach to the Problem of Evil

In works of art, there is variety, gradation and contrast, e.g., counterpoint and harmony in music; In creation, there is “unity in diversity”, and if the pattern doesn’t encompass the opposite extremes, it would not be the unity of the All. There are innumerable acts in the great Play, but we only participate in one, so we cannot see clearly the design of the playwright, and the universe perceived by the senses is less of a unity than its rational formative principle (λόγος).

The problem of evil should not be considered in isolation, but as part of the whole. Wicked men have their reason for existence. Among other things, they exist for the necessary training of the just. Without temptation, there would be no virtue, without danger, there would be no courage, without dragons, there would not be dragon-slaying heroes. It is the responsibility of those who can think for themselves to train and be prepared, so that they are not overcome by evil and ruled by the wicked because of their own sloth, cowardice and folly.

Providence, the Archetype of Artist

The art is wonderful which appears, not only in the divine beings but also in the things which one might have supposed providence would have despised for their smallness, for example, the workmanship which produces wonders in rich variety in ordinary animals, and the beauty of appearance which extends to the fruits and even the leaves of plants, and their beauty of flower which comes so effortlessly and their delicacy and variety, and that all this has not been made once and come to an end but is always being made as the powers above move in different ways over this world.

For all that is divine makes according to its nature; but its nature corresponds to its substance, and its substance is that which brings forth together beauty and justice in its workings; for if beauty and justice are not in it, where could they be?

The ordering of the universe, then, corresponds with Intellect in such a way that it exists without rational planning, but exists so that if anyone could plan rationally as well as possible, he would wonder at it because planning could not have found out another way to make it; something of this is observed even in individual natures, which come in to being continually more conformed to Intellect than they could be by an ordering which depended on rational planning.

Life is an Artistic Activity

There is a rational principle (λόγος) that proceeds from Intellect and Soul. All life, even if there is no perception there, is an activity which is not random. Because it is en-reasoned, i.e., informed by λόγος, which moves it in such way that its movement is a forming. So the activity of life is an artistic activity, like the way in which one who is dancing is moved; for the dancer himself is like the life which is artistic in this way and his art moves him, and moves in such a way that the actual life is somehow of this artistic kind.

The soul, coming on the stage in this universal poetic creation and making itself a part of the play, supplies of itself the good or the bad in its acting; it is put in its proper place on its entrance and receives everything except itself and its own works, and so is given punishments or rewards. As the sound of the voice and the gestures of the actor are beautiful or ugly as he makes them, and either adorn the poet’s creation further, or by adding the badness of the actor’s own words and acts, do not make the play other than what it was –for the author foreknew what they were going to say or do and was able to bring the rest of the play and the consequences of their interventions into a coherent whole by the rational principles –, but the actor makes a grotesque exhibition of himself, and the author sends him off in deserved disgrace, but promotes the good actor to higher rank, and if he has any, to finer plays.

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2 thoughts on ““Ennead III: On Providence” by Plotinus

  1. Thank you, just love to read how you raise the points on “Without temptation, there would be no virtue, without danger, there would be no courage, without dragons, there would not be dragon-slaying heroes.”

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