Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Plotinus NULL

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

"Let us, therefore, re-ascend to the good itself, which every soul desires; and in which it can alone find perfect repose. For if anyone shall become acquainted with this source of beauty he will then know what I say, and after what manner he is beautiful. Indeed, whatever is desirable is a kind of good, since to this desire tends. But they alone pursue true good, who rise to intelligible beauty, and so far only tend to good itself; as far as they lay aside the deformed vestments of matter, with which they become connected in their descent. Just as those who penetrate into the holy retreats of sacred mysteries, are first purified and then divest themselves of their garments, until someone by such a process, having dismissed everything foreign from the God, by himself alone, beholds the solitary principle of the universe, sincere, simple and pure, from which all things depend, and to whose transcendent perfections the eyes of all intelligent natures are directed, as the proper cause of being, life and intelligence. With what ardent love, with what strong desire will he who enjoys this transporting vision be inflamed while vehemently affecting to become one with this supreme beauty! For this it is ordained, that he who does not yet perceive him, yet desires him as good, but he who enjoys the vision is enraptured with his beauty, and is equally filled with admiration and delight. Hence, such a one is agitated with a salutary astonishment; is affected with the highest and truest love; derides vehement affections and inferior loves, and despises the beauty which he once approved. Such, too, is the condition of those who, on perceiving the forms of gods or daemons, no longer esteem the fairest of corporeal forms. What, then, must be the condition of that being, who beholds the beautiful itself?"

"Man has come into existence, a living being but not a member of the noblest order; he occupies by choice an intermediate rank; still, in that place in which he exists, Providence does not allow him to be reduced to nothing; on the contrary he is ever being led upwards by all those varied devices which the Divine employs in its labour to increase the dominance of moral value. The human race, therefore, is not deprived by Providence of its rational being; it retains its share, though necessarily limited, in wisdom, intelligence, executive power and right doing, the right doing, at least, of individuals to each other- and even in wronging others people think they are doing right and only paying what is due. Man is, therefore, a noble creation, as perfect as the scheme allows; a part, no doubt, in the fabric of the All, he yet holds a lot higher than that of all the other living things of earth."

"Mankind is poised midway between the gods and the beasts. "

"Mathematics, which as a student by nature he will take very easily, will be prescribed to train him to abstract thought and to faith in the unembodied; a moral being by native disposition, he must be led to make his virtue perfect; after the Mathematics he must be put through a course in Dialectic and made an adept in the science."

"Motion is thought of as imperfect, not because it is not an Act, but because, entirely an Act, it yet entails repetition [lacks finality]."

"Never did eye see the sun unless it had first become sun-like, and never can the soul have vision of the First Beauty unless itself be beautiful."

"No: the body has acquired life, it is the body that will acquire, with life, sensation and the affections coming by sensation. Desire, then, will belong to the body, as the objects of desire are to be enjoyed by the body. And fear, too, will belong to the body alone; for it is the body's doom to fail of its joys and to perish."

"Nothing, in fact, is far away from anything; things are not remote: there is, no doubt, the aloofness of difference and of mingled natures as against the unmingled; but selfhood has nothing to do with spatial position, and in unity itself there may still be distinction."

"Now from this relation, from the Soul using the body as an instrument, it does not follow that the Soul must share the body's experiences: a man does not himself feel all the experiences of the tools with which he is working."

"Now what could bring fear to a nature thus unreceptive of all the outer? Fear demands feeling. Nor is there place for courage: courage implies the presence of danger. And such desires as are satisfied by the filling or voiding of the body, must be proper to something very different from the Soul, to that only which admits of replenishment and voidance. And how could the Soul lend itself to any admixture? An essential is not mixed. Or of the intrusion of anything alien? If it did, it would be seeking the destruction of its own nature. Pain must be equally far from it. And Grief- how or for what could it grieve? Whatever possesses Existence is supremely free, dwelling, unchangeable, within its own peculiar nature. And can any increase bring joy, where nothing, not even anything good, can accrue? What such an Existent is, it is unchangeably."

"Of men, some enter into life as fragments of the All, bound to that which is external to themselves: they are victims of a sort of fascination, and are hardly, or not at all, themselves: but others mastering all this- straining, so to speak, by the head towards the Higher, to what is outside even the Soul- preserve still the nobility and the ancient privilege of the Soul's essential being."

"Our doctrine of the immortality of the heavenly system rests on the firmest foundation once we have cited the sovereign agent, the soul, and considered, besides, the peculiar excellence of the bodily substance constituting the stars, a material so pure, so entirely the noblest, and chosen by the soul as, in all living beings, the determining principle appropriates to itself the choicest among their characteristic parts. No doubt Aristotle is right in speaking of flame as a turmoil, fire insolently rioting; but the celestial fire is equable, placid, docile to the purposes of the stars."

"Passivity, thus, implies the existence within of a motion functioning somehow or other in the direction of alteration. Action too implies motion within, whether the motion be aimless or whether it be driven by the impulse comported by the term Action to find its goal in an external object. There is Motion in both Action and Passion, but the differentia distinguishing Action from Passion keeps Action impassive, while Passion is recognized by the fact that a new state replaces the old, though nothing is added to the essential character of the patient; whenever Being [essential Being] is produced, the patient remains distinct."

"Perhaps, the good and the beautiful are the same, and must be investigated by one and the same process; and in like manner the base and the evil. And in the first rank we must place the beautiful, and consider it as the same with the good; from which immediately emanates intellect as beautiful. Next to this, we must consider the soul receiving its beauty from intellect, and every inferior beauty deriving its origin from the forming power of the soul, whether conversant in fair actions and offices, or sciences and arts. Lastly, bodies themselves participate of beauty from the soul, which, as something divine, and a portion of the beautiful itself, renders whatever it supervenes and subdues, beautiful as far as its natural capacity will admit."

"That words, indeed, are not otherwise valuable than as subservient to things, must surely be acknowledged by every liberal mind, and will alone be disputed by him who has spent the prime of his life, and consumed the vigour of his understanding, in verbal criticisms and grammatical trifles. And, if this is the case, every lover of truth will only study a language for the purpose of procuring the wisdom it contains; and will doubtless wish to make his native language the vehicle of it to others. For, since all truth is eternal, its nature can never be altered by transposition, though by this means its dress may be varied, and become less elegant and refined. Perhaps even this inconvenience may be remedied by sedulous cultivation; at least, the particular inability of some, ought not to discourage the well-meant endeavours of others. Whoever reads the lives of the ancient Heroes of Philosophy, must be convinced that they studied things more than words, and that Truth alone was the ultimate object of their search; and he who wishes to emulate their glory and participate their wisdom, will study their doctrines more than their language, and value the depth of their understandings far beyond the elegance of their composition. The native charms of Truth will ever be sufficient to allure the truly philosophic mind; and he who has once discovered her retreats will surely endeavour to fix a mark by which they may be detected by others."

"The kosmos is like a net which takes all its life, as far as ever it stretches, from being wet in the water, and has no act of its own; the sea rolls away and the net with it, precisely to the full of its scope, for no mesh of it can strain beyond its set place: the soul is of so far-reaching a nature- a thing unbounded- as to embrace the entire body of the All in the one extension; so far as the universe extends, there soul is; and if the universe had no existence, the extent of soul would be the same; it is eternally what it is. The universe spreads as broad as the presence of soul; the bound of its expansion is the point at which, in its downward egression from the Supreme, it still has soul to bind it in one: it is a shadow as broad as the Reason-Principle proceeding from soul; and that Reason-Principle is of scope to generate a kosmic bulk as vast as lay in the purposes of the Idea [the Divine forming power] which it conveys."

"The sensitive eye can never be able to survey, the orb of the sun, unless strongly endued with solar fire, and participating largely of the vivid ray. Everyone therefore must become divine, and of godlike beauty, before he can gaze upon a god and the beautiful itself. Thus proceeding in the right way of beauty he will first ascend into the region of intellect, contemplating every fair species, the beauty of which he will perceive to be no other than ideas themselves; for all things are beautiful by the supervening irradiations of these, because they are the offspring and essence of intellect. But that which is superior to these is no other than the fountain of good, everywhere widely diffusing around the streams of beauty, and hence in discourse called the beautiful itself because beauty is its immediate offspring. But if you accurately distinguish the intelligible objects you will call the beautiful the receptacle of ideas; but the good itself, which is superior, the fountain and principle of the beautiful; or, you may place the first beautiful and the good in the same principle, independent of the beauty which there subsists."

"Pleasure and distress, fear and courage, desire and aversion, where have these affections and experiences their seat? Clearly, either in the Soul alone, or in the Soul as employing the body, or in some third entity deriving from both. And for this third entity, again, there are two possible modes: it might be either a blend or a distinct form due to the blending."

"The nature, at once divisible and indivisible, which we affirm to be soul has not the unity of an extended thing: it does not consist of separate sections; its divisibility lies in its presence at every point of the recipient, but it is indivisible as dwelling entire in the total and entire in any part. To have penetrated this idea is to know the greatness of the soul and its power, the divinity and wonder of its being, as a nature transcending the sphere of Things."

"The material body is made up of parts, each holding its own place, some in mutual opposition and others variously interdependent; the soul is in no such condition; it is not whittled down so that life tells of a part of the soul and springs where some such separate portion impinges; each separate life lives by the soul entire, omnipresent in the likeness of the engendering father, entire in unity and entire in diffused variety."

"The Will of God is able to cope with the ceaseless flux and escape of body stuff by ceaselessly reintroducing the known forms in new substances, thus ensuring perpetuity not to the particular item but to the unity of idea: now, seeing that objects of this realm possess no more than duration of form, why should celestial objects, and the celestial system itself, be distinguished by duration of the particular entity?"

"The love of beauty which exalts the poet; that devotion to the One and that ascent of science which makes the ambition of the philosopher, and that love and those prayers by which some devout and ardent soul tends in its moral purity towards perfection: these are the great highways conducting to that height above the actual and the particular, where we stand in the immediate presence of the Infinite, who shines out as from the deeps of the soul."

"The magnitude present in any mass is definitely one thing, yet its identity from part to part does not imply any such community as would entail common experience; within that identity there is diversity, for it is a condition only, not the actual Essence. "

"Those other things not existing, Matter will not be a substrate, nor will it have a place among the Existents; it will be Matter bare, and for that reason not even Matter, since Matter is a relative. The relative is relative to something else: it must, further, be homogeneous with that something else: double is relative to half, but not Substance to double."

"We may treat of the Soul as in the body- whether it be set above it or actually within it- since the association of the two constitutes the one thing called the living organism, the Animate. Now from this relation, from the Soul using the body as an instrument, it does not follow that the Soul must share the body's experiences: a man does not himself feel all the experiences of the tools with which he is working."

"What measures, then, shall we adopt? What machine employ, or what reason consult by means of which we may contemplate this ineffable beauty; a beauty abiding in the most divine sanctuary without ever proceeding from its sacred retreats lest it should be beheld by the profane and vulgar eye? We must enter deep into ourselves, and, leaving behind the objects of corporeal sight, no longer look back after any of the accustomed spectacles of sense. For, it is necessary that whoever beholds this beauty, should withdraw his view from the fairest corporeal forms; and, convinced that these are nothing more than images, vestiges and shadows of beauty, should eagerly soar to the fair original from which they are derived. For he who rushes to these lower beauties, as if grasping realities, when they are only like beautiful images appearing in water, will, doubtless, like him in the fable, by stretching after the shadow, sink into the lake and disappear. For, by thus embracing and adhering to corporeal forms, he is precipitated, not so much in his body as in his soul, into profound and horrid darkness; and thus blind, like those in the infernal regions, converses only with phantoms, deprived of the perception of what is real and true."

"Whenever, therefore, form accedes, it conciliates in amicable unity the parts which are about to compose a whole; for being itself one it is not wonderful that the subject of its power should tend to unity, as far as the nature of a compound will admit. Hence beauty is established in multitude when the many is reduced into one, and in this case it communicates itself both to the parts and to the whole. But when a particular one, composed from similar parts, is received it gives itself to the whole, without departing from the sameness and integrity of its nature. Thus at one and the same time it communicates itself to the whole building and its several parts; and at another time confines itself to a single stone, and then the first participation arises from the operations of art, but the second from the formation of nature. And hence body becomes beautiful through the communion supernally proceeding from divinity."

"Sensation may be regarded as a Form of double origin [determined both by the sense-organ and by the sensible object]; and similarly with knowledge."

"Soul thus is nowhere but in the Principle which has that characteristic existence at once nowhere and everywhere."

"The conflict and destruction that reign among living beings are inevitable, since things here are derived, brought into existence because the Divine Reason which contains all of them in the upper Heavens- how could they come here unless they were There?- must outflow over the whole extent of Matter."

"The dominant in a living thing is what compasses it entirely and makes it a unity."

"The infinity is a matter of power: there is question, not of the soul's being divisible into an infinite number of parts, but of an infinite possible effectiveness: it is infinity in the sense in which the Supreme God, also, is free of all bound."

"The world is finite [knowable], harmonious, and good."

"The world, we must reflect, is a product of Necessity, not of deliberate purpose: it is due to a higher Kind engendering in its own likeness by a natural process."

"Virtue linked with thought, occupying a Soul, makes God manifest: God o the lips without good conduct of life is only a word."

"We are not separated from spirit, we are in it. "

"We, undisciplined in discernment of the inward, knowing nothing of it, run after the outer, never understanding that it is the inner which stirs us; we are [like] one who sees his own reflection but not realizing whence it comes goes in pursuit of it."

"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"

"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."

"Become vision itself."

"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."

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

"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."

"Besides this purest Soul, there must be also a Soul of the All: at once there is another Love ? the eye with which this second Soul looks upwards ? like the supernal Eros engendered by force of desire. This Aphrodite, the secondary Soul, is of this Universe ? not Soul unmingled alone, not Soul, the Absolute, giving birth, therefore, to the Love concerned with the universal life; no, this is the Love presiding over marriages; but it, also, has its touch of the upward desire; and, in the degree of that striving, it stirs and leads upwards the Souls of the young and every Soul with which it is incorporated in so far as there is a natural tendency to remembrance of the divine. For every Soul is striving towards The Good, even the mingling Soul and that of particular beings, for each holds directly from the divine Soul, and is its offspring."

"But clearly it is in being since it is not itself non-being. But if that [good] is being and in being, the [good] for each thing would be in itself. We have then not departed from being, but we are in it, nor has it [departed] from us: so all beings are one."

"But if one posited an existence without activity, the principle would be defective and the most perfect of all imperfect. And if one adds activity one does not keep the One. If then the activity is more perfect than the substance, and the first is most perfect, the first will be activity? Now certainly an activity not enslaved to substance is purely and simply free, and in this way he himself is himself from himself."

"But now another man, wishing to exist? wound himself round us and attached himself to that man who was then each one of us? and we have come to be the pair of them and the coming to be of desires and pleasures and pains grew up in it? Now the soul which comes from the divine was quiet, standing in itself according to its character."

"But the real drive of desire of our soul is towards that which is better than itself. When that is present within it, it is fulfilled and at rest, and this is the way of living it really. We cannot be said to 'will' the presence of necessities, if 'willing' is used in its proper sense and not misapplied to the occasions when we prefer the necessities also to be there."

"But what of chastisements, poverty, illness, falling upon the good outside of all justice? Are they therefore to be charged to past misdoing? No; such misfortunes do not answer to reasons established in the nature of things but were merely accidental sequents. A house falls, and anyone that chances to be underneath is killed, no matter what sort of man he be. The undeserved stroke might be no evil to the sufferer in view of the beneficent interweaving of the All."

"Every soul, authentically a soul, has some form of rightness and moral wisdom; in the souls within ourselves there is true knowing: and these attributes are no images or copies from the Supreme, as in the sense-world, but actually are those very originals in a mode peculiar to this sphere. For those Beings are not set apart in some defined place; wherever there is a soul that has risen from body, there too these are: the world of sense is one ? where, the Intellectual Cosmos is everywhere. Whatever the freed soul attains to here, that it is There. Thus, if by the content of the sense-world we mean simply the visible objects, then the Supreme contains not only what is in the realm of sense but more: if in the content of the cosmos we mean to include Soul and the Soul-things, then all is here that is There."