The Dennes Room

Event Detail

Thu Jan 21, 2021
4–6 PM
Philosophy Colloquium
Christopher Noble
Everything in Nature (and I do mean everything) is in Intellect: Forms and Natural Teleology in Plotinus

According to Plato’s Timaeus, divine intelligence ensures that the cosmos is as good as possible, in part by engaging in means-end reasoning about how to make the cosmos and its parts. However, Aristotle’s arguments that divine intelligence thinks only the best intelligible object, and that the cosmos is eternal, raise significant difficulties for this account. In this talk, I argue that Plotinus seeks to uphold the Platonic view that divine intelligence plays a comprehensive role in accounting for natural teleology, while accepting these Aristotelian constraints, by holding that all teleological structures in the cosmos have intelligible analogues in a divine Intellect. I defend and explain this expansive interpretation of the contents of Plotinus’ Intellect by way of responding to two concerns that have led to the standard interpretation that his Intellect’s contents have a more limited scope: (1) that an expansive reading of this sort would compromise the value of Intellect’s contents (‘the value problem’), and (2) that intelligence can only account for the purpose and essence of certain physical structures (e.g. horns) by considering features of sensible reality (e.g. predators), to which a transcendant Intellect has no access (‘the teleology problem’). Finally, I propose that Plotinus’ theory has its basis in Plato’s paradeigmatism, and that it represents an attractive pre-Darwinian approach to intelligent causation in cosmology.