Is God Beautiful

It may be observed that the discussions on the nature and existence of a Supreme Being are often related with things, extending from the other metaphysical objects to the more practical and empirical aspect of human lives. For instance, consider how discussions and inquiry about the existence and nature of a Supreme Being results from inquiries on the metaphysical notions of existence, causality, ethics and morality to the more practical and empirical knowledge acquisition. To this, the philosophy of Plotinus presents itself as no exemption.

In this paper, a survey on the question Is God beautiful is presented in view of Plotinus notions of the words God and beautiful. Specifically, this paper presents an analysis of how the question Is God beautiful may be answered, as well as the possible answers to this question, in view of the arguments forwarded by the philosopher Plotinus on the subject.  

The paper is divided into sections. The first section contains an analysis of the question Is God beautiful to provide the backdrop for the discussion. In the second section, more often than not, references to the Christian perspective on the Divine Existence are made. This is not to say that the Christian is the absolute other view with which Plotinuss discussions may be compared and contrasted. Yet, the paper maintains that the Christian conception of the God is a good reference point to highlight the important details Plotinus discussions on God because of the similarities as well as the striking contrasts it (Plotinus philosophy on the Supreme) shares with the Christian perspective. The third section contains an exposition of Plotinus concept of the Beautiful. Lastly, the fourth section provides a brief synthesis as well as analysis of Plotinus arguments in answer to the question Is God beautiful.  

Analysis of the question
There are two ways by which the question may be understood. The first entails considering the word beautiful a quality. In this sense, the word beautiful here functions like an adjective that describes a noun. Thus, the question is interpreted as asking if that particular quality (beautiful) applies to Gods nature. The second entails considering the word beautiful as a noun in itself. This gives the words God and beautiful the same relationship as the words Christopher and the pronoun him have in the sentence Christopher is him. In effect, it implies that the words can be interchangeable in their positions in the sentence and still preserve the meaning and essence of the sentence the relationship between the words is somehow reflexive. To illustrate, consider the sentence God is beautiful- this has a meaning that is the same with when the two words interchange positions in the sentence and the sentence becomes Beautiful is God.

Analysis of Plotinus concept of God or The One
Like other philosophers, Plotinus ascribed meanings to the concepts of God and beautiful which are very different from how these two words are used in everyday conversation. Thus, it is crucial to define and understand the words in view of the definitions ascribed by Plotinus if we intend to answer any questions from the perspective of his arguments. This makes the question more challenging because as shall be illustrated later, Plotinus notions about The One and beauty have much deeper meanings. These two notions are in fact two of the three central concepts that comprise the center of Plotinus metaphysics.  

The Christian understanding of the concept of God is defined within the notion of the Holy Trinity, or the oneness of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. However, this trinity is not present in Plotinus conception of the God. While it is needless to elaborate here the qualities ascribed to God from the Christian perspective, it is important to note that may of these qualities are essentially shared with the characteristics of the The One as proposed by Plotinus in his metaphysics. In my view, it is actually very hard to define the demarcations that separate the Christian God from the God of Plotinus notwithstanding the observation that they essentially differ at two points.

First, the power of the Christian God described as experienced and witnessed by humans in the biblical accounts are qualities that are lacked in the God as described by Plotinus. Thus, while the Christians would give as one of their premises for their Gods existence the deity super power as the people experienced it, Plotinus The One is not to be comprehended through the sensing of its powers. Secondly, while Christians obviously attach a sense of deity nature to their God, the God Plotinus is not to worshipped and praised, or at least Plotinus has not made explicitly so.  

One of the very important features Plotinus ascribed to The One is the notion of causality. Plotinus was looking for something that could provide grounds or explanations for the existence of things as independent form sense-perception. It (the ultimate cause of everything) is something that is not caused by something else as it is only when something is uncaused that it does not depend for its existence on something else and only then that it is probable for it to have the ability to cause something else to exist. In effect, a very important reason why Plotinus had to identify The One in the first place, as well as the characteristics he ascribed to it, was also because he was trying to provide the grounds for how a true knowledge is possible. A major step in tackling the issues on knowledge formation is to look into the nature of things and their existence, which then brings to discussion of a primary cause of everything there is.

Plotinus did not believe in empiricism and he questioned the validity of knowledge based from sense perception. To him, what the senses sense does not constitute a real knowledge because they (the things) true nature is necessarily stained by the deceitful nature of the sense. Additionally, Plotinus also argues that whenever appearances or images enter our minds, they do so not as details of things-in-themselves but as how the mind influenced them. Thus, they enter our consciousness as caused by something else- in effect, the images they have are some sort of a reaction to what is sensing it. Thus, the real nature of things cannot be determined though the use of sense-perception alone.

However, this is not to say that we can humans can never know anything. To Plotinus, the knowledge formation has to come from something else- that which is not caused and must be a cause in itself, existing and making its existence known not through sense perception. Plotinus has decided that the notion of a supreme being is appropriate for such function, primarily because two of defining the features ascribed to such being are simplicity (it is only when a thing is simple enough that we can say it exists by itself) and causality. There are two implications of this- (1) the power of the One that Plotinus was talking about is not to be sensed through experience of its power as this would necessarily place it under the category of sensation or sense-perception and (2) The existence of the God is the simplest form there is.

The Intellect is what gives the first principles. Plotinus argues that while it is the soul that gives form to objects, it is the intellect that gives the object the principles that defines it as what it really is, as a thing-in-itself. Notwithstanding this, Plotinus states that what the Intellect gives to the soul is for Plotinus is still near to the truth and not the absolute truth-in-themselves.

This intellect comes from the Divine, as it cannot come essentially from any human being or anything else that is caused, neither can it be something that exists in itself as it cannot give the complete absolute truth, which is only to be found in the Divine.

Analysis of Plotinus concept of the beautiful
Merriam-Webster, a dictionary for everyday English, defines the word beautiful as having qualities of beauty exciting aesthetic pleasure and generally pleasing excellent. Using this dictionary definition, for instance, it can be said that the word beautiful is considered more like a trait or quality, and as an adjective used to describe a noun with pleasant characteristic.

To Plotinus, however, the word beautiful is something else. It is what he calls as one of the two first principles that emanate from the Divine- the ultimate first. The Beautiful as the first principle is what enables men to come at peace with the intellect. Only when men live with a beautiful nature can they come across intellect because only when they have such beauty inside them can they go to such a higher region where encounter with the intellect is possible. This higher region is a metaphorical way of putting the state wherein a human being is able to transcend the limits of the knowledge made possible by sense-perception and realize the first principles that define things. This is similar to seeing through the sensations or what the sense make available as information.

To Plotinus, the encounter with the Beautiful occurs only when we do not rely much and settle with the sensations (i.e. pleasure and pain) resulting from sense-perception. At this point, Plotinus was somehow criticizing knowledge theories that make experience as the basis for or foundation of knowledge. As already mentioned the body only receives the objects as images rather than a things-in-themselves and thus, reliance to these images lead to faulty knowledge or is not adequate to be considered knowledge at all.

Arguments on the beautiful, as forwarded by Plotinus, is the key to understanding how to be in that human state where one can be capable of achieving true knowledge about things. Aside from this somewhat functionality, the beautiful is what, according to Plotinus, make the body beautiful and make the soul beautiful. To Plotinus, there are two ways by which a body can be beautiful the presence of beauty in it or the soul makes it beautiful. However, the soul, by itself, is not beautiful and is rather caused to be beautiful by the principle of the beautiful. This is why some souls are beautiful and others not. Additionally, the beautiful cannot contain the ugly, which is its opposite.

Answer to Is God beautiful
From the One, which is the ultimate cause of everything, comes the two first principles of the intellect and the beautiful. The first principle beautiful is identified with the One, the same way that the first principle of the Intellect is identified with the One. Given this, how then is the question Is God beautiful analyzed

It is argued here that the question may be approached either from the two interpretations of the question that have been mentioned earlier- with the word beautiful as a noun, and beautiful as an adjective. Any of these questions would lead to a yes answer.

As a one of the two first principles emanating from the One, the word beautiful is a noun that is identified with the word God, meaning, these two are not separate entities although the presence of the first is dependent on the presence of the second. God is goodness and beauty- this is the simplest way to interpret Plotinus and this reflects the interrelatedness in the relationship of the two notions. Not only is the beautiful coming from the One, it is identified with it also by essence. It would be hard to say that something is not the thing identified with it, by essence. At one sense, to Plotinus, the One and Beautiful are one and the same , although the former is more encompassing than the latter.

The same analysis applies true even if the word beautiful is taken to be an adjective to refer to one of the qualities of the One. It is at this point, however, when a counter argument may be readily made. For one, the word beautiful in the words of Plotinus, does not accommodate any feature of ugliness as it (ugliness) is contrary to the notion or essence of the beautiful. Meanwhile, Plotinus argues that The One, being it the cause of everything in the universe, is also the cause of evil. Evil is ugliness as it contains the unpleasant. Thus, it may be asked that if God is the source of evil or badness, then how can it (God) be called beautiful. The notion of beautiful necessitates that the thing it is describing does not have any unpleasant characteristic in it, and we see that this requirement is not fulfilled in the sense that The One is also the cause and source of evil. To respond to this issue, it is to be said that the One is capable of having dual existence in it as to Plotinus, it encompasses everything that even the notion the one is not adequate a term. Following this line and considering that what is bad as ugly, we then say that God is beautiful and ugly at the same time- the word beautiful or any other word for this matter, cannot impose the same absolute requirements to something more absolute than it.


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