Plotinus

Plotinus
c. 205
c. 270

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

Author Quotes

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.

For at this point one would arrive at the act of thinking of it (evil) as if to be disproportion in regards to proportion, and limitlessness in regards to limit, formlessness in regards to the one-shaping-the-forms, always wanting in self-sufficiency, always indefinite, nowhere having a place to situate itself, wholly passive, insatiable absolute poverty; and these things above have not been corresponding to it, but as if the true essential being of it is these things, and what is it but all these things.

For it is as was said of old: ?Temperance, courage, every virtue ? even prudence itself ? are purifications.? ? For what is temperance, rightly so called, but to abstain from the pleasures of the body, to reject them rather as unclean and unworthy of the clean? What else is courage but being unafraid of death, that mere parting of soul from body, an event no one can fear whose happiness lies in being his own unmingled self? What is magnanimity except scorn of earthly things? What is prudence but the kind of thinking that bends the soul away from earthly things and draws it on high? ?

For it is the greatest of all things? And it must be understood as infinite not because its size and number cannot be measured or counted but because its power cannot be comprehended. For when you think of him as Intellect or God, he is more; and when you unify him in your thought, here also the degree of unity by which he transcends your thought is more than you imagined it to be; for he is by himself without any incidental attributes.

Anyone that adds his evil to the total of things is known for what he is and, in accordance with his kind, is pressed down into the evil he has made his own, and upon death goes by the pull of natural forces to the place that fits his quality. Thus this universe of ours is a wonder of power and wisdom, everything by a noiseless path coming to pass according to a law which none may elude? which the base man never conceives though it is leading him, all unknowing, to that place in the All whither he must be borne; which the just man knows, and, knowing, sets forth, understanding before he departs where he shall be housed in the end and having good hope that it may be with the Gods

For it is the part of the soul that is in the body that sleeps; but the true awakening is a true getting up from the body, not with the body. Getting up with the body is only getting out of one sleep into another, like getting out of one bed into another; but the true rising is a rising altogether away from bodies.

Awareness of the One comes to us neither by knowing nor by the pure thought that discovers the other intelligible things, but by a presence transcending knowledge.

For that [principle] would be true in this way, if all things were tending to unity and were a unity, and the desire were of this [unity]. On the one hand, this unity in going forth to other [unities], as far as it is possible for it to advance, would appear and even in a way be many.

Become vision itself.

For that which generates is always simpler than that which is generated. If this, then, generated Intellect, it must be simpler than Intellect. But if anyone should think that the One itself is also all things, then either it will be each one taken separately or all of them together. If, then, it is all of them collected together, it will be posterior to all things; but if it is prior to all things, all things will be other than it, and it will be other than all things, but if it and all things are simultaneous, then it will not be an origin. But it must be an origin, and exist before all things, in order that all things, too, may exist after it. But as for its being each one taken separately, first, any one of them will be the same as any other, then all will be confounded together and there will be no distinction [between them]. And so it is not one of all things, but is before all things.

Before we had our becoming here, we existed there, men other than now; we were pure souls. Intelligence inbound with the entire of reality, not fenced off, integral to that All? Then it was as if One voice sounded. One word was uttered and from every side an ear attended and received and there was an effective hearing; now we are become a dual thing, no longer that which we were at first, dormant, and in a sense no longer present.

He that has the strength, let him arise and withdraw into himself, foregoing all that is known by the eyes, turning away forever from the material beauty that once made his joy. When he perceives those shapes of grace that show in body, let him not pursue: he must know them for copies, vestiges, shadows, and hasten away towards That they tell of. For if anyone follow what is like a beautiful shape playing over water ? is there not a myth telling in symbol of such a dupe, how he sank into the depths of the current and was swept away to nothingness? So too, one that is held by material beauty and will not break free shall be precipitated, not in body but in Soul, down to the dark depths loathed of the Intellective-Being, where, blind even in the Lower-World, he shall have commerce only with shadows, there as here.

Being clear of thought [the One] is purely what it is, not hindered by the presence of thought from being pure and one.

How can one see the beauty of a good soul? Withdraw into yourself and look. If you do not as yet see beauty within you, do as does the sculptor of a statue that is to be beautified: he cuts away here, he smoothes it there, he makes this line lighter, this other one purer, until he disengages beautiful lineaments in the marble. Do you this, too. Cut away all that is excessive, straighten all that is crooked, bring light to all that is overcast, labor to make all one radiance of beauty. Never cease ?working at the statue? until there shines out upon you from it the divine sheen of virtue, until you see perfect ?goodness firmly established in stainless shrine.? Have you become like this? Do you see yourself, abiding within yourself, in pure solitude? Does nothing now remain to shatter that interior unity, nor anything external cling to your authentic self? Are you entirely that sole true light which is not contained by space, not confined to any circumscribed form, not diffused as something without term, but ever unmeasurable as something greater than all measure and something more than all quantity? Do you see yourself in this state? Then you have become vision itself. Be of good heart. Remaining here you have ascended aloft. You need a guide no longer. Strain and see.

Being is desirable because it is identical with Beauty, and Beauty is loved because it is Being. We ourselves possess Beauty when we are true to our own being ugliness is in going over to another order knowing ourselves, we are beautiful in self-ignorance, we are ugly.

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