Plotinus

Plotinus
c. 205
c. 270

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

Author Quotes

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.

The Good is beyond beautiful, beyond the Highest, holding kingly state in that Intellectual Cosmos of which the Principle is wholly unlike what is known as intelligence in us. Our intelligence works by reasonings, examines links of demonstration, and comes to know the world of Being also by the steps of logical process, having no prior grasp of Reality, but remaining empty, all intelligence though it be, until it has put itself to school. But the Divine Mind is not of such a kind. It possesses all, It is all. It has all by other means than having, for what It possesses is still Itself. And the First Act is the Act of Good stationary within Itself; but there is also an Act directed towards It, that of the Divine Mind which, as it were lives about It. And Soul circles around Divine Mind and by gazing upon It, seeing into the depths of It, through It sees God. Such is the untroubled, blissful life of divine Beings, and evil has no place in it.

On the other hand, the ancient nature and the desire of the good, the very thing which is of itself, really leads to unity, and every nature tends to this [unity], to itself. For this is the good for this one nature, to be of itself and to be itself: but this is to be one.

The individual souls, certainly, have an intelligent desire consisting in the impulse to return to itself springing from the principle from which they came into being.

One is cause of the cause. He is then in a greater degree something like the most causative and truest of causes, possessing all together the intellectual causes which are going to be from him and generative of what is not as it chanced but as he himself willed.

The more intellective it is, the more beautiful it [i.e. the soul] is. Intellection, and all that comes from intellection, is for the soul a beauty that is its own and not another?s because then it is that the soul is truly soul. ? A divine entity and a part, as it were, of Beauty, The Soul renders beautiful to the fullness of their capacity all things it touches or controls. ?

Only the mind?s eye can contemplate this mighty beauty. But if it comes to contemplation purblind with vice, impure, weak, without the strength to look upon brilliant objects, it then sees nothing even if it is placed in the presence of an object that can be seen. ? Let each one therefore become godlike and beautiful who would contemplate the divine and beautiful.

The nature of the Soul, then, is twofold, being of divine station but skirting the sense-known nature; thus, while it communicates to this realm something of its own store, it absorbs in turn whenever it plunges in an excessive zeal to the very midst of this sphere; though even thus it is always able to recover itself by turning to account the experience of what it has seen and suffered here, learning so the greatness of existence in the Supreme and more clearly discerning the finer things by contrast with their opposites. The experience of evil brings the clearer perception of good.

Our individual bodies need a great deal of troublesome thought? and they are continually in the grip of poverty? [and with the soul's fellowship with it the body] fills the soul with pleasures, desires and griefs.

The One does not aspire to us, to move around us; we aspire to it, to move around it.

Philosophy and Dialectic: What, then, is Philosophy? Philosophy is the supremely precious. Is Dialectic, then, the same as Philosophy? It is the precious part of Philosophy. We must not think of it as the mere tool of the metaphysician: Dialectic does not consist of bare theories and rules: it deals with verities; Existences are, as it were, Matter to it, or at least it proceeds methodically towards Existences, and possesses itself, at the one step, of the notions and of the realities. Untruth and sophism it knows, not directly, not of its own nature, but merely as something produced outside itself, something which it recognizes to be foreign to the verities laid up in itself; in the falsity presented to it, it perceives a clash with its own canon of truth. Dialectic, that is to say, has no knowledge of propositions ? collections of words ? but it knows the truth, and, in that knowledge, knows what the schools call their propositions: it knows above all, the operation of the soul, and, by virtue of this knowing, it knows, too, what is affirmed and what is denied, whether the denial is of what was asserted or of something. These brackets and contents are mine, added for clarity, and replace ?it.? Else, and whether propositions agree or differ; all that is submitted to it, it attacks with the directness of sense-perception and it leaves petty precisions of process to what other science may care for such exercises.

The One, the Good and Beauty: That One, therefore, since it has no otherness is always present and we are present to it when we have no otherness; and the One does not desire us, so as to be around us, but we desire it, so that we are around it. And we are always around it but do not always look to it; it is like a choral dance: in the order of its singing the choir keeps round its conductor but may sometimes turn away, so that he is out of their sight, but when it turns back to him it sings beautifully and is truly with him; so we too are always around him ? and if we were not, we should be totally dissolved and no longer exist ? but not always turned to him; but when we do look to him, then we are at our goal and at rest and do not sing out of tune as we truly dance our god-inspired dance around him.

It is in virtue of unity that beings are beings.

Rarity: you must close the eyes and call instead upon another vision which is to be waked within you, a vision, the birth-right of all, which few turn to use.

The One?s so to speak, existence is his, as it were, activity.

It is the soul that accepts unmeasure, excess and shortcoming which bring forth licentiousness, cowardice and all other flaws of the soul, all the states, foreigh to the true nature, which set up false judgments, so that the soul comes to name evil or good those things which it respectively flees or pursues (rather than to test them by their true value). Such a soul is not purely itself; it is shut out from the Forming Idea that orders and brings to measure, and this because it is merged in a body made of matter. Then if the reasoning faculty too has taken hurt, the soul's seeing is balked by the passions and by the darkening that matter brings to it, by its attention no longer to essence but to process whose principle or source is matter. Wholly without part in Good, the negation of Good, unmingled lack, this matter-kind makes over to its own likeness whatsoever comes in touch with it. But the soul wrought to perfection, addressed towards Divine Mind, is steadfastly pure; it has turned away from matter; all that is undetermined, that is outside of measure, that is evil, it neither sees nor draws near; it endures in its purity wholly determined by Divine Mind.

Recollection and the Forms: At any time when we have not been in direct vision of that sphere, memory is the source of its activity within us; when we have possessed that vision, its presence is due to the principle by which we enjoyed it: this principle awakens where it wakens; and it alone has vision in that order; for this is no matter to be brought to us by way of analogy, or by the syllogistic reasoning whose grounds lie elsewhere; the power which, even here, we possess of discoursing upon the Intellectual Beings is vested, as we show, in that principle which alone is capable of their contemplation. That, we must awaken, so to speak, and thus attain the vision of the Supreme, as one, standing on some lofty height and lifting his eyes, sees what to those that have not mounted with him is invisible.

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.

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