Deck (1991:19-22) – Contemplação


Enéada III,8 começa com um ensinamento que é, e pretende ser, inovador e chocante. A Natureza contempla. A natureza em árvores, plantas, e a terra contemplam. Além do mais, a natureza produz árvores, plantas e a terra pela contemplação. A contemplação é assim produtiva — produtiva de realidades substanciais e concretas.

Examinar a doutrina de Plotino da «natureza como contempladora» por extenso significará um reavaliar toda sua filosofia. Pois esta doutrina, embora assentada em seu próprio relato, estabelece o palco para o desenvolvimento nos capítulos subsequentes da Enéada III,8, onde Plotino acompanha a contemplação através das familiares três hipóstases de seu «sistema» (a Alma, a Inteligência e o Uno), aparentemente equacionando contemplação com produção do inferior em cada caso, exceto no caso do Uno (Enéada III, 8, 5-11. A Natureza, a «parte» mais baixa da Alma do Mundo, ela mesma foi produzida pela atividade contemplativa da Alma do Mundo propriamente. A Alma do Mundo foi produzida, assim parece, pela atividade contemplativa do Noûs (a Inteligência). Só o Uno está além da dualidade do conhecimento, assim parece não contemplar, e produz o Noûs de maneira diferente. Em todos os outros casos, a produção vem através da contemplação.


Ennead III, 8, begins with a teaching that is, and is meant to be, novel and striking.1 Nature contemplates. The nature in trees, plants, and the earth contemplates. Further, nature produces trees, plants, and the earth by contemplating. Contemplation is thus productive—productive of concrete, substantial realities.

To examine Plotinus’ doctrine of “nature as a contemplator” thoroughly will mean to reappraise his whole philosophy. For this doctrine, arresting though it is on its own account, sets the stage for the development in the immediately succeeding chapters of III, 8, in which Plotinus traces contemplation through the familiar three hypostases of his “system” (the Soul, the Intelligence, and the One), apparently equating contemplation with the producing of the inferior in each case, except that of the One (III, 8,5-11). Nature, the lower “part” of the World Soul, has itself been produced by the contemplative activity of the World Soul proper. The World Soul has been produced, it would seem, by the contemplative activity of the Noûs (the Intelligence, the Knower). Only the One, which is beyond the duality of knowledge, seemingly does not contemplate, and produces the Nous in a different way. In all other instances, producing comes about through contemplating.

It is obvious that Ennead III, 8, gives a fairly complete picture of Plotinus’ world, and locates nature-as-contemplation in the lower reaches of that world. Its emphasis on contemplation makes it a relatively fresh and independent picture.2 Less apparent is the relevance of Ennead III, 8, to the real world. The present-day reader, who, regardless of his personal convictions, cannot be indifferent to the influence of popular or philosophic positivism, may well regard Plotinus’ concentration upon contemplation as a romantic fantasy. At first glance it may seem that, in making all reality (except the One) contemplative, Plotinus takes the world to be dreamy, inconclusive, insubstantial “thought.” In making contemplation productive, he shows a lack of appreciation of production as we see it taking place in the world, by the impact of one material thing on another. In general, we may think that Plotinus seems not to grasp the world as it is, but to remake it according to a highly questionable inward vision. If we like, we may call this mysticism, and perhaps honor it as such, but we will scarcely credit it as a hardheaded attempt to understand the actual world.

To treat Ennead III, 8, quite seriously as philosophy we must, however, go beyond “attitudes” towards trees which contemplate—either the attitude of romantic approbation or that of positivistic contempt. We must seek to attain a technical philosophic understanding of what Plotinus sees as contemplation, what he sees as production throughout his world. This will involve an investigation of almost his entire philosophy. And in this investigation we will come upon a doctrine which seems to compromise that of Ennead III, 8,1-4. The production of the vegetative things which come to be in the visible cosmos appears to be effected in a way other than by nature contemplating.

The two treatises “On the Omnipresence of Being” (VI, 4 and 5) present this different view. Here we learn that there is nothing in between matter and the ideas; that the intelligible wrorld (the world of ideas, the Noûs) is present to the sensible world; that the sensible world participates in the intelligible world (VI, 4, 2, 17-49). The chapters in which these doctrines are set forth seem to suggest a lack of mediation between the Nous and matter, and thus can convey the impression that the higher part of the soul, and nature, which have appeared as diminutions from the Noûs, are unnecessary and perhaps even impossible intermediaries between the Noûs and matter. The entire doctrine seems to be undermined which saw the vegetative things of the visible cosmos as the product of nature’s relatively feeble producing-contemplating, which in turn was derived from producing-contemplating by soul, and this in its turn from producing-contemplating by the Noûs. What does Plotinus mean? Is the visible universe to be explained as the ultimate product of a series of diminishing hypostases or parts of hypostases, or is it the direct product of the Noûs? Which contemplation is really productive of the vegetative things in the cosmos—that of nature or that of the Noûs?

It may be possible to see answers to these questions in Plotinus’ own texts. Perhaps a co-ordination of the supposedly different doctrines of the producing of the visible cosmos is present in the Enneads themselves. But again, what is the philosophic worth of these two doctrines, even if they should turn out to be one? Do they relate to anything that someone who is not a Plotinian initiate experiences or understands? What is Plotinus talking about when he begins to treat of nature? Of contemplation? Is he dealing with realities? What is the Noûs, the Knower, the “contemplator” in the fullest sense of the term? If Plotinus regards contemplation as productive, does he have any “feel” for producing by hands and tools? Is any continuity traceable between this latter type of producing and contemplative producing?

Then, if it can be admitted that Plotinus’ doctrine is worthy of respect as an understandable account of the visible world, does he speak of this world with an undivided voice? If Plotinus is understood as a serious philosopher of the sensible, material world, we seek to know whether he has one ultimate judgement about its production, or two.

  1. Plotinus, Ennead III, treatise 8, chapter 1, lines 18-24. Henceforth such references will be cited in the form III, 8, 4,18-24. Reference for Enneads I-V and for Ennead VI, 7,1-14 is to the edition of Paul Henry and Hans-Rudolph Schwyzer, Plotini Opera, I—II (Paris and Brussels, 1951- ). For the rest of Ennead VI, reference is to the edition of Emile Brehier, Plotin Enneades (Paris, 1924-1938). 

  2. Outside of III, 8, contemplation explicitly as such, designated by the noun theoria and the cognate thea, and expressed by the verb theorem, “contemplate,” is mentioned only occasionally. There is a discussion of contemplation in the Noûs (V, 3, 5) which parallels that of III, 8, and a fairly extensive treatment of the “contemplation” of the One by the “individual” soul (VI, 9, 11).