chapter  12
20 Pages

Cosmic sympathies: nature as the expression of divine purpose


It seems reasonable to expect that a distinctive and dismissive attitude to the natural world should develop in late antiquity.1 The dominant philosophy was Platonist, and Platonist philo­ sophers were taught to direct their attention away from the detail of this world because the world around us is the lowest level of being: multiple, changeable, material. Matter has no real being - we can never securely say that it is anything - and Plotinus at least considered the possibility that its non-being is infectious, actively (though not deliberately) evil (Enneads, 1. 8; 2. 4: see further Armstrong 1970, 257). But even if, on a more optimistic view, the universe results from the outpouring (‘emanation’) of the One in creative thought, it is still a mistake to focus the mind on this lowest level. The perception of physical beauty should lead us to reflect on what beauty is and how we are capable of perceiving it, advancing by ever greater abstraction to contem­ plate the truly beautiful.