Deck (137-139) – poiesis

In short, the world can be viewed truly as Noûs. It can be viewed relatively truly as soul, as nature, as sensible. All of these aspects, which Plotinus sees, are in the world.

The Noûs and the intermediaries are more than logically distinct. In all the ways the world can be thought, so it is. It can be known as Noûs—it is Noûs. It can be known, by a diminished knowledge, as soul—it is soul. It can be known as nature—it is nature. The Noûs is a distinct hypostasis to the extent that it is not the One. Soul is a distinct hypostasis to the extent that it is not Noûs, not contemplation, not being. Nature is a distinct hypostasis, or part of a distinct hypostasis, in the same way.

As the Noûs is the being of the sensible universe via soul, the One is the super-being of Noûs. The Noûs “makes” the sensible universe, it is the veritable maker, in the sense that the sensible universe appears, happens, because the Noûs, which is being, is. In a similar fashion the Noûs happens because the One super-subsists. Plotinus’ treatment of the generation of the Noûs by the One and his treatment of the production of the sensible world by the Noûs are parallel. The primordial sensible world is matter which “tries to seize being” and so becomes an imitation of being. Similarly, the primordial Noûs is presented as an intellectual-intelligible matter which “turns to the One” in an attempt to receive oneness and so stabilizes itself as intellect and intelligibility (cf. V, 2, 1, 7-13; VI, 7, 16, 10-35). It goes without saying that in both cases there is no temporal sequence involved. But stripped of metaphor, these notions mean that the otherness, the non-oneness, of the Noûs, its intelligible matter, is the gauge of its separation from the One. But for this, it would be the One, just as, if it were not for matter, the sensible universe would be the Noûs. The Noûs, as one, is the One, just as the sensible world, as being, is the Noûs—but the Noûs, as a second one, is not the One, and the sensible world, as an imitation of the Noûs, is not the Noûs.

These considerations permit a final evaluation of Plotinus’ notion of poiesis. An inferior hypostasis is generated without any outflowing motion of the hypostasis of the generator. Absolutely nothing leaves the One to come to the Noûs, and nothing leaves the Noûs to come to the soul or to the sensible cosmos. There is, further, no exertion in causal efficacy. That which is generated comes to hypostasis eternally, or rather a-temporally, in relation to the generator. And yet the generated cannot be regarded as a distinct existent, because its being, or in the case of the Noûs, its super-being, is the generator.

When speaking of the production of the sensible world by soul, Plotinus strives to hold this notion of production, and yet to permit some declination towards matter. In doing so, he toys with the notion of multiplying hypostases, or parts of hypostases, between the higher soul and matter. But ultimately the declination towards matter is seen to be metaphor. The relaxation of unity, contemplation, and poietic strength in the descent from the Noûs is not so much an actual relaxing, as the presence, on different levels, of realities which, although still real, and still mirror images of true being, are progressively less and less real. Since Plotinus sees these inferior realities, soul and nature, present “between” the Noûs and the sensible cosmos, a presentation of these intermediaries is necessary to make his view of his world complete.

It has become clear that the formulation of Plotinus’ philosophy benefits from the doctrine of contemplative producing provided in Ennead III, 8. If we did not possess Ennead III, 8, it would be possible to reconstruct its doctrines, in essence, from indications elsewhere in the Enneads. What would be lacking, however, and what Ennead III, 8 provides, is precisely contemplative producing as a synthesizing principle. Contemplative producing, interpreted to be sure in the light of other doctrines and other synthetic notions, is seen to co-ordinate best Plotinus’ picture of his world. With regard to nature, it is the notion which connects nature most suitably through soul with Noûs: this is of decisive importance, because Noûs is the true being of the world. It also unifies the other notions, such as life and logos, which are appropriate to a Plotinian description of nature. In this sense “contemplative producer” is the ultimate characterization of the nature in vegetative things for the world of Plotinus, and Plotinus’ philosophy needs the doctrine of nature as contemplation.