Plotinus

Plotinus
c. 205
c. 270

Greek Philosopher, Theorized three principles: the One, the Intellect and the Soul

Author Quotes

The perception of Beauty and the awe and the stirring of passion towards it are for those already in some degree knowing and awakened: but the Good, as possessed long since and setting up a natural tendency, is inherently present to even those asleep and brings them no wonder when some day they see it, since it is no occasional reminiscence but is always with them though in their drowse they are not aware of it: the love of Beauty on the contrary sets up pain when it appears, for those that have seen it must pursue. This love of Beauty then is later than the love of Good and comes with a more sophisticated understanding; hence we know that Beauty is a secondary: the more primal appetition, not patent to sense, our movement towards our good, gives witness that The Good is the earlier, the prior. Again; all that have possessed themselves of The Good feel it sufficient: they have attained the end: but Beauty not all have known and those that have judge it to exist for itself and not for them, as in the charm of this world the beauty belongs only to its possessor. Then, too, it is thought enough to appear loveable whether one is so or not: but no one wants his Good in semblance only. All are seeking The First as something ranking before aught else, but they struggle venomously for beauty as something secondary like themselves: thus some minor personage may perhaps challenge equal honor with the King?s right-hand man on pretext of similar dependence, forgetting that, while both owe their standing to the monarch, the other holds the higher rank. The source of the error is that while both The Good and The Beautiful participate in the common source, The One precedes both; and that, in the Supreme also, The Good has no need of The Beautiful, while the Beautiful does need The Good. The Good is gentle and friendly and tender, and we have it present when we but will. Beauty is all violence and stupefaction; its pleasure is spoiled with pain, and it even draws the thoughtless away from The Good as some attraction will lure the child from the father?s side: these things tell of youth. The Good is the older ? not in time but by degree of reality ? and it has the higher and earlier power, all power in fact, for the sequent holds only a power subordinate and delegated of which the prior remains sovereign.

Knowing demands the organ fitted to the object.

Since your soul is so exalted a power, so divine, be confident that in virtue of its possession you are close to God. Begin therefore with the help of this principle to make your way to Him. You have not far to go: there is not much between. Lay hold of that which is more divine than this god-like thing; lay hold of that apex of the soul which borders on the Supreme (Nous), from which the soul immediately derives.

The soul gazes on the Source of life, Intelligence, Being, Good, the Root of the soul?s existence. All these entities emanate from the One without any lessening, for it is not a material mass, but elusive wholeness.

Knowledge of The Good or contact with it, is the all-important: this ? we read ? is the grand learning, the learning we are to understand, not of looking towards it but attaining, first, some knowledge of it. We come to this learning by analogies, by abstractions, by our understanding of its subsequents, of all that is derived from The Good, by the upward steps towards it. Purification has The Good for goal; so the virtues, all right ordering, ascent within the Intellectual, settlement therein, banqueting upon the divine ? by these methods one becomes, to self and to all else, at once seen and seer; identical with Being and Intellectual-Principle and the entire living all, we no longer see the Supreme as an external; we are near now, the next is That and it is close at hand, radiant above the Intellectual. Here, we put aside all the learning; disciplined to this pitch, established in beauty, the quester holds knowledge still of the ground he rests on but, suddenly, swept beyond it all by the very crest of the wave of Intellect surging beneath, he is lifted and sees, never knowing how; the vision floods the eyes with light, but it is not a light showing some other object, the light is itself the vision. No longer is there thing seen and light to show it, no longer Intellect and object of Intellection; this is the very radiance that brought both Intellect and Intellectual object into being for the later use and allowed them to occupy the quester?s mind. With This he himself becomes identical, with that radiance whose Act is to engender Intellectual-Principle, not losing in that engendering but for ever unchanged, the engendered coming to be simply because that Supreme exists. If there were no such principle above change, no derivative could rise.

So we are concerned with its pains and pleasures, more in proportion as we are weaker and do not separate ourselves, but consider the body the most honorable part of ourselves and the real man, and, so to speak, sink ourselves in it.

The soul in its nature loves God and longs to be at one with Him in the noble love of a daughter for a noble father; but coming to human birth and lured by the courtships of this sphere, she takes up with another love, a mortal, leaves her father and falls.

Let us define the nature of the Good as far as our immediate purpose demands. The Good is that on which all depends, towards which all existences aspire as to their source and need, while Itself is without need, the measure and term of all, giving out from Itself Divine Mind and Being and Soul and Life and all intellective act.

So 'we' is used in two senses, either including the beast or referring to that which even in our present life transcends it. The beast is the body which has been given life. But the true man is different, clear of these affections.

The soul of each one of us is sent, that the universe may be complete.

Life is the flight of the alone to the alone.

Suppose the soul to have attained: the highest has come to her, or rather has revealed its presence; she has turned away from all about her and made herself apt, beautiful to the utmost, brought into likeness with the divine by those preparings and adornings which come unbidden to those growing ready for the vision ? she has seen that presence suddenly manifesting within her, for there is nothing between: here is no longer a duality but a two in one; for, so long as the presence holds, all distinction fades: it is as lover and beloved here, in a copy of that union, long to blend; the soul has now no further awareness of being in body and will give herself no foreign name, not ?man,? not ?living being,? not ?being,? not ?all?; any observation of such things falls away; the soul has neither time nor taste for them; This she sought and This she has found and on This she looks and not upon herself; and who she is that looks she has not leisure to know. Once There she will barter for This nothing the universe holds; not though one would make over the heavens entire to her; than This there is nothing higher, nothing of more good; above This there is no passing; all the rest, however lofty, lies on the down going path: she is of perfect judgment and knows that This was her quest, that nothing higher is. Here can be no deceit; where could she come upon truer than the truth? and the truth she affirms, that she is, herself; but all the affirmation is later and is silent. In this happiness she knows beyond delusion that she is happy; for this is no affirmation of an excited body but of a soul become again what she was in the time of her early joy. All that she had welcomed of old-office, power, wealth, beauty, knowledge of all she tells her scorn as she never could had she not found their better; linked to This she can fear no disaster nor even know it; let all about her fall to pieces, so she would have it that she may be wholly with This, so huge the happiness she has won to.

The soul, sprung from the Divine, lay self-enclosed at peace, true to its own quality; but its neighbor, body, in uproar through weakness, unstable of its own nature and beaten upon from without, of itself and cried out to the compounded being and spread its own disorder to the whole. Thus at an assembly the elders may sit in tranquil meditation, but an unruly populace, crying for food and casting up a host of grievances, will bring the whole gathering into ugly turmoil; when this hold their peace so that a word from a man of sense may reach them, some passable order is restored and the baser faction ceases to prevail; otherwise the silence of the better allows the rabble to rule, the distracted assembly unable to take the word from above. This is the evil of man; man includes an inner rabble? pleasures, desires, fears? and these become masters when he gives them play. But one that has reduced his rabble and become again the Man he was, lives to that, so that what he allows to the body is granted as to something separate.

Matter is... no limit or bound, for it is mere indetermination; it is not a power, for what does it produce? ... it is no more than the image and phantasm of Mass, a bare aspiration towards substantial existence; it is stationary but not in the sense of having position, it is in itself invisible, eluding all effort to observe it, present where no one can look, unseen for all our gazing, ceaselessly presenting contraries in the things based upon it, it is large and small, more and less, deficient and excessive; a phantasm unabiding and yet unable to withdraw.

Take away thinking and being in union and thought of itself and of others; for we must not put him on the level of thinker but rather on the level of thought. But thought does not think but is a cause of thought to another; and the cause is not the same as what is caused. But the cause of things is none of them.

The Soul's Descent Into Body - Thus, in sum, the Soul, a divine being and a dweller in the loftier realms, has entered body; it is a god, a later phase of the Divine: but under stress of its tendency to bring order to its next lower, it penetrates to this sphere in a voluntary plunge; if it turns back quickly, all is well; it will have taken no hurt by acquiring the knowledge of evil and coming to understand what sin is, by bringing into play those activities which, potential merely in the unembodied, might as well never have been even there if destined never to come into actuality.

Men have forgotten that to which from the beginning onwards their longing and effort are pointed; for all that exists desires and aspires towards the Supreme by a compulsion of nature, as if divining by instinct that they cannot exist without it.

Take, then, an ugly soul. It is dissolute, unjust, teeming with lusts, torn by inner discord, beset by craven fears and petty envies. It thinks indeed. But it thinks only of the perishable and the base. In everything perverse, friend to filthy pleasures, it lives a life abandoned to bodily sensation and enjoys its depravity. Ought we not say that this ugliness has come to it as an evil from without, soiling it, rendering it filthy, ?encumbering it? with turpitude of every sort, so that it no longer has an activity or a sensation that is clean? For the life it leads is dark with evil, sunk in manifold death. It sees no longer what the soul should see. It can no longer rest within itself but is forever being dragged towards the external, the lower, the dark. It is a filthy thing, I say, borne every which way by the allurement of objects of sense, branded by the bodily, always immersed in matter and sucking matter into itself. In its trafficking with the unworthy it has bartered its Idea for a nature foreign to itself.

The whole of creation is awake and alive at every point.

Never stop working on your statue until the divine glory of virtue shines out on you, until you see self-mastery enthroned upon its holy seat.

The effects of the One are not poured out from him with the result that they diminish him; for there is no bulk; otherwise the things generated from him would be perishable. But as it is they are eternal, because their principle remains the same, not divided up into them but abiding as a whole. So they also abide; just as the light abides if the sun abides,

The world is knowable, harmonious, and good.

Newly awakened it is all too feeble to bear the ultimate splendor. Therefore the Soul must be trained ? to the habit of remarking, first, all noble pursuits, then the works of beauty produced not by the labor of the arts but by the virtue of men known for their goodness: lastly, you must search the souls of those that have shaped these beautiful forms. But how are you to see into a virtuous soul and know its loveliness? Withdraw into yourself and look. And if you do not find yourself beautiful yet, act as does the creator of a statue that is to be made beautiful: he cuts away here, he smoothes there, he makes this line lighter, this other purer, until a lovely face has grown upon his work. So do you also: cut away all that is excessive, straighten all that is crooked, bring light to all that is overcast, labor to make all one glow of beauty and never cease chiseling your statue, until there shall shine out on you from it the godlike splendor of virtue, until you shall see the perfect goodness surely established in the stainless shrine. When you know that you have become this perfect work, when you are self-gathered in the purity of your being, nothing now remaining that can shatter that inner unity, nothing from without clinging to the authentic man, when you find yourself wholly true to your essential nature, wholly that only veritable Light which is not measured by space, not narrowed to any circumscribed form nor again diffused as a thing void of term, but ever unmeasurable as something greater than all measure and more than all quantity ? when you perceive that you have grown to this, you are now become very vision: now call up all your confidence, strike forward yet a step ? you need a guide no longer ? strain, and see.

The evil that has overtaken them has its source in self-will, in the entry into birth, in the desire for self ownership. They conceived a pleasure in this freedom and largely indulged their own motion; thus they were hurried down the wrong path, and drifting further and further, came to lose even the thought of their origin in the Divine. Children wrenched young from home and brought up at a distance will fail in knowledge of their parents and themselves; in the same way the souls no longer discern either the Divinity or their own nature; ignorance of their rank brings self-depreciation; all their awe and admiration is for the alien, and clinging to this they have broken away as far as a soul may; their regard for the mundane and their disregard of themselves bring about their utter ignoring of the Divine.

Nous: The Platonic Parmenides is more exact; the distinction is made between the Primal One, a strictly pure Unity, and a secondary One which is a One-Many and a third which is a One-and-many; thus he too is in accordance with our thesis of the Three Kinds.

Author Picture
First Name
Plotinus
Birth Date
c. 205
Death Date
c. 270
Bio

Greek Philosopher, Theorized three principles: the One, the Intellect and the Soul