7"

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS

the -same

Author

THE OPEN SECRET
Intuitions of Life

and Reality
2/6 net.

Crown
The

8vo.

Cloth.

writer

shows how speculative
in

thought has

past often suc ceeded in anticipating the findings of
the
positive research,

and contends

that

Philosophy should be regarded as the

vanguard

of Science.

8

William R !der & Son, Ltd., PATERNOSTER ROW. LONDON, E.C.4

tHE WISDOM OF
PLOTINUS
A METAPHYSICAL STUDT

By

CHARLES
Author
"

J. B.A., M.D., Cantab.
of

WHITBY
Character
"

of

The Logis

Human

Thus needs, that ye may apprehend, we speak: Since from things sensible alone ye learn That which, digested rightly, after turns

To

intellectual.

DANTE, Paradise.

Canto

iv., 40,

43 (Cary sTr.)

Plotinus was a

man
I

of wonderful ability,
S.

and some of

the sublimest passages

ever read are in his works.
T. COLERIDGE, Table Talk.

LONDON

WILLIAM RIDER AND SON LTD 8 PATERNOSTER ROW E.C
1919

TO MY FRIEND
J.

R. E.,

WITH AFFECTIONATE REGARD

~

/r
?

.

v

/ /
<

THE
I

will

temerity of this attempt at the re-statement not say the resuscitation, for they have
of the doctrines of the

never died

most uncom

promisingly-esoteric of idealists, in an age whose dominant conceptions are apparently so antithetic
to those they

by

its

embody, The perpetrator.

by no means unrealised task, however, was initiated,
is

not deliberately, nor aggressively and by

way

of

challenge to the confident agnosticism of contem

porary opinion. In a sense, it can hardly be said to have been voluntarily undertaken at all. Casually introduced to the notice of the writer, at an age

when
to

his

mind must have been

peculiarly susceptible
of

their significance, the

Enneads

PJotinus, as
of Bouillet, 1

presented in the excellent

French version

took such a grip upon his imagination that for

many months
1

they seemed to have translated him

bodily to the shining sphere of supersensual experi-

To which and its voluminous commentary acknowledge my debt.
5

I

hereby

6
ence.

PREFACE
Of
this absorption, or withdrawal, the present

monograph represents now,

after the lapse of

some
and

years, to its author, not the coolly-conceived

methodically-executed record, but, as

it

were, the

talisman, which, awakening, he found in his hand.

For him, at
of a
it

least, the

aspect

it

reveals

is

not that
;

manufactured

article,

a fragment of research

has, with all its defects, the qualities, too, of its
of origin, the inevitableness of a piece of actual

mode

and whose validity is therefore a permanently-established If the work were to do fact. again, it would, no
doubt, be done differently, with more of academic method and a fuller reference to accredited author
ities,

experience, something that has been lived out,

but

in these respects

it

hardly admits of any

modification short of actual re-writing. And the would not be entirely an advantage to the change
reader.

Meanwhile,

it

may

be claimed

for

this
it

reconstruction of the doctrine of Plotinus, that
is

based upon an analysis of the system as a whole and inasmuch as he was an eclectic, deeply imbued with the lore of the great classic philosophers, having
;

at his finger-tips the assimilated
Aristotle,
it

wisdom

of Plato,

may

Pythagoras, Epicurus, and the Stoics, even be affirmed that in possessing a know
the

ledge

ol

Neoplatonist

system

we

virtually

possess a skeleton key to the appreciation of both

PREFACE
ancient and modern metaphysic.

7

Of ancient meta;

physic, for the reason already stated

of

modern,

though, in the Science of Being, vast progress has doubtless been made since the days when Plotinus lived and taught at Rome and Alex
because,

upon the whole, it has been a progress which, leaving unmarred the grand outlines of the
andria, yet,

primitive scheme, has perforce contented

itself

with

and enriching
all

broadening and strengthening its logical foundations its bare and abstract austerity with
the fulness of concrete experience.

To Plotinus

thinkers so great, yet so diverse, as Hegel, Coleridge

and Emerson have been proud
their debt.

acknowledge remained unacknowledged it might easily have been inferred by the student of

to

Had

it

their respective works.

The modern theory

of the

Absolute, as represented in the masterly speculations
of our

own

Dr. Bradley, amounts in fact to a rein

statement of the Plotinian theory of the Noumenal Universe. With a difference, no doubt for, at
;

first sight,

the sensuous factors of experience, which

Neoplatonist system appear to be excluded from the definition of Reality. But they are not really so excluded, only conceived
as divested of the element of illusion which char
acterises

Bradley includes,

would

in the

them on the phenomenal
in

plane.

For
of

PJetinus expressly states that,

the

sphere

8
true existence
"

PREFACE
"

thought
"

may

equally be described

as

"

clear
"

sensation,"

just as, on the
is

phenomenal
"

plane,
thought."

sensation

definable

as

obscure

Symptoms have

of late not been

wanting

of a revival of interest in the

works

of Plotinus

and

his Neoplatonist disciples,

but with the excep
subject, a

tion of Dr. Bigg s

volume on the

work

written from a theological rather than a free philoso phical standpoint, I am not aware of the existence
of
if

any methodical exposition
there be

of the system.

But

any truth

in the assertion of Plotinus,

that the contemplative faculty of individuals and of the race rises by a natural progression from the

sensuous to the psychical, from the psychical to the
spiritual plane, the

appearance of this

little

work

prove not inopportune. Speculation has ever been the advance-guard of inductive science, and now that the latter has attained to the very verge

may

of the material world,

now

that the elements
into

them

selves are

being resolved

the semblance of

unsubstantial accretions of the omnipresent etherial
or electrical

not far

medium, it would seem that the day is distant when the perennial controversy of

materialism versus idealism shall have passed into the limbo of obsolete and meaningless things.
C. J.

W.

BATH, 1908.

PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION
SINCE
since
this little

book was published, and

still

more

I began to write it a good many years before a remarkable change in the attitude of public that,

opinion towards transcendental speculations of this

kind has come about.
cism,"

In the heyday of agnosti to take seriously the doctrines of Neoplatonic
"

idealism, to

have

faith in the possibility of a general

revival of

interest in such other-worldly points of

view,

argued an almost presumptuous audacity.
so,

So much

indeed,

that in writing the book

I

remember to have been oppressed by an atmosphere of coldly hostile opinion from which it was necessary
to isolate myself

by a constant
is it

effort of will.

All

the more gratifying
faith has

therefore to find that

my

been fully

justified, not only by the kindly

reception of

my own

modest work, but by other

unmistakable signs of identical purport. It would no doubt be an exaggeration to claim that the philo-

lo

PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION
of Plotinus
;

but has become popular as yet that, at least in the higher levels of the intellectual

sophy
life

of to-day, his
"

name and
of

"

his doctrines are

in

the air
day,

is,

I think, incontestable.
I

Only the other

apropos,

believe,

Mr.

McKenna

s

new

translation of the Enneads, the Daily Chronicle gave

a column to the subject.
of

This

is

only one instance
is

many
is

that are available, but what

more impor

tant

the change in the general relations of the

two

hostile

camps

of

opinion

those

who

are in
"

Disraeli s
angels."

the phrase on the side of or against The former have, in military parlance,
;

stolen the initiative

it is

the latter
of

who

are

now

change one altogether favourable to the appreciation of such a thinker as Plotinus.
C. J.

on the defensive.

It is a

immense import,

W

BATH, 1919.

CONTENTS
DEDICATION PREFACE SONNET: PLOTINUS LIFE OF PLOTINUS

....... ........15
. .

PAGE
4
5

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Ammonius

.

.

.

.

.

.

The Enneads

.

.

.

ANCIENT AND MODERN METHODS The Principal Phases of Thought.
sity,

...
.

.

.18 .18
20
21

17

Logical Sequence and Perdurability
. .

NEOPLATONISM
Hypostases

The One or the Good The Intelligence The Universal Soul Their Mutual Relation The Human Microcosm
.

MATTER

The Source of Evil THE UNIVERSE
Its Spiritual Basis

Nature Germinal Reasons or Forms Evolution
. . .

.......23 .23 .23 ......24 .25 ........27 ...... ..... ........31
.

Their Neces

22

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

24

.

.

.

.

.

.

26

.

.

.

.

28
29 30

.

.

.

.

.

-31
.

Inferiority of the Sensible Universe Its Essential Divinity and Vital Unity

.

.

32 33

INDIVIDUALITY
Its

.

.

.

.

.

Basis in Man, Animals, and Plants Discursive Reason versus Pure Intelligence

-35
. .

The Goal

of
.

Reason
.
:

.

.
.

.

.

Philosophy

.

.

.

Its Rewards Liberty, Serenity, Security The Philosopher is Indifferent to Externals THE PROBLEM OF EVIL Freedom versus Necessity

-37 -37
.

35 36

Their Ideal Unity

..... ....
.

37 38 40 40
41

.

.

.

12

CONTENTS
PAGE
Destiny
Illusion
.
.

.
.

.
.

.
.

.

.

.

.

Apparent Injustice the Exception Justice the Rule
.
.

Accident Further Considerations The Dignity of Life Variety in Unity Metempsychosis Death no Calamity
.

8.

PROVIDENCE AND THE INDIVIDUAL Detachment The Drama of Life
Predestination Choice and Free-will
. . .
. .

....... ..... .......45 ......46 ...... .....
.
.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.41 ,42 43 .43 43 .44
44 45

.

.

.

.

46

.

.

46

.

.

.

.

9.

DEMONS AND THE DEMONIC FACULTY
Genius and Talent Pursuit of Ideals.
.

.

.

.

.

.

Demons
Mythology
10.

in

CONCERNING LOVE AND THE EMOTIONS Pure Love Love as the Genius or Demon of a
Affectability Shame, Fear, Pain, etc.

.... .... .54
. . .

.

.

.

the Einirn/fs

.48 .48 49 .50 ^ .51
.

yt;

.

.

3

.....
.
i

Lifo

.

54

Memory not
11.

a Passively retained Impression Vice and Ignorance
.

56
-5
eg

Spiritual Ochlocracy (Mob-Rule

.

SUBSTANCE OR CORPOREAL ESSENCE
Generic Factors of Corporeal Existence

.58
.

.

12.

13.

Being verstts Becoming TIME AND ETERNITY DOCTRINE OF THE SOUL The Life of Nature
The Universal Soul

The Basis of Magic The Stars and Planets
14.

Nature an Unconscious Agent INDIVIDUALITY
Its Basis

... ...

.... .61 .... ...... .... ...
.

.

60

.

.

gj

^^

64

5e

67 68 69

6O _o

Individuality as a Function of the Universal

70

CONTENTS
Cosmic Periods . Unity and Multiplicity of the Universal Soul
. .
.

13

PAGE
.

15.

INCARNATION OR DESCENSION The Natural or Vestigial Soul The Soul imperfectly Rational
.

16.

17.

Descension the Logical result of Individuality Conversion the Necessary result of Intelligence Reincarnation St. Augustine s View of Metempsychosis Reticence of Plotinus as to Christianity THE WORLD-SOUL AS BASIS OF MOVEMENT . Development, and Life Matter and Spirit not locally separated INTELLIGENCE, AND THE INTELLIGIBLE WORLD

... ...
.

.71 72 .72
74 74 76 77 79 80 80
81

......
.

.

.

.

.

.82

.

84
85 85

The

Ideal Basis of the
.
. .

Judgment
. .

.

.

Universality of Rational Criteria

. .

Ascension
"

.

That which

Is

"

Abstract Intelligence

.

.

.

.

The Intelligible World is a Multiple Unity Freedom and Necessity on the Intelligible Plane
. . . .
.

.86 .87 88 .88
90

18. 19.

20.

Good PRIMAL CATEGORIES OR ELEMENTS OF THK NOTION UNIVERSAL NUMBER Hegel on Universals as Laws NUMBER AND UNITY
.
.

are one Evolution implies a Higher Principle in Act Intelligence as active Contemplation of the
.

.91
gz 93

.......
Number
of the Indi
.

Essential or Constitutive vidual
21.

TIME AND SPACE IN ETERNITY Symbolism in the System of Plotinus Kantian View of Time and Space
.

....... ...
.

......96 .....
98

94 96

99 99
100
101 101

.

Hegel on the Subjective Idealism of Kant Eternal Truth not Unknowable
.

Science
22.

IDEAL FUNCTIONS OF TIME AND SPACE. and Plotinus) Time in Eternity
.

....... ......
.

.102
104
105 106

(Dante

.

.

i4

CONTENTS
PAGE

23.

UNIVERSAL DIFFERENTIATION Involution and Evolution Intelligible Units as Types The Idealism of Shelley and Plotinus
. .
.

.

.

.

.

.no .no
.

.

109

in

Universality implies the Individual Individuality implies the Universal The Absolute transcends Both Universality as the Criterion ot Greatness
. . .
.

.112 .112
.
.

24.

Hegel on Universality in Religions INTELLIGENCE AND THE ONE

.

113 113 114 115 116
.

The Good

Ecstasy . Virtue as Form Liberty the Law of Reason. Liberty versus Convention Genius and Morals Grades of Ascension
.

.....
as

.

.

.

Superior
.

to

Intelligence
.

.

.116
117

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

25

THE CAUSE OF BEAUTY Nature of the One
butes
.
.

Mystic Reunion

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.117 .117 .118 .118 .119 .119
.

superior to Thought Superior, therefore, to all conceivable Attri
.

120

The Measure
26.

THE ONE
Inadequacy

27.

POTENTIAL IMPORT OF THE DOCTRINE OF UNITY 125 The One as Abstraction .126 .126 Intelligence as an Abstraction
.

....... ....
of All

.

.

.

Things

.

.

.

.121 .121
122 122

of Science.

.

.

Psychological Basis of the Soul, the Intelli 126 gence, and the One The One a Potence of the Soul . .127 Matter and the One .127
. .

.....
.
.

.

.

.

The two Infinites .128 Infinite Love .128 The Doctrine of Unity not peculiar to Plotinus 128 Love the Principle of Ascension and Descension 129 The Soul as Love is the Good .129 Love not a mere Affection 129 The Material Organism as the Seat of Feelings 130 Emotions compatible with Freedom belong to
.

.
.

.

.
.

.

.

.

....
. .

the Soul

.......

130

Plotinus
To

A

thee the solid universe appeared veil translucent to the strenuous gaze
far source in dazzling light ensphered.

Of Wisdom, pierced by coruscating rays

From some

Thou wert as one who, when the mists had cleared, Saw oversea the snow-clad mountains raise Their peaks with dawn s effulgent hues ablaze, And knew at once the land for which he steered.
Beyond that
veil celestial

shapes were seen

awe and mystery intent, Holding their course, majestic and serene, Archetypes of Beauty and the eternal Mind Which in supernal rapture soared, and leant On Love supreme, and thence their task divined.
of

On works

15

The Wisdom of

Plotinus

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
Life of Plotinus.

I

-

The philosopher
forms
the

whose
sub j ect

gift

to
this

posterity

of

monograph was born
Egypt)
the
in

(possibly at Lycopolis, in the year 205 or 206 A.D. in the reign of

Emperor Severus.
assert that

The

details

of

his

origin

are enveloped in mystery, but the fact that

Eunapius

and Suidas
age
is

he was of Egyptian parent worthy of recollection in view of his undoubted
familiarity with, Oriental Philosophy. however, as the direct intellectual heir of

interest in,
It
is,

and

Plato and Socrates, and as the apostle par excellence of the Platonic ideal of life and thought, that he

stands

out

above

all

his

contemporaries

;

and

whatever
Hellenic.

his parentage, his genius

was

essentially

At the age

of

twenty-seven he became

a student of philosophy at Alexandria.

whom

The master he finally selected (after having expressed
17

i8

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
was

dissatisfaction with the doctrines of several other

professors)

Ammonius

Saccas,

a

and probably deserved reputation, whose powers would seem to have been devoted entirely to the task of oral
Platonist lecturer of great
instruction, for he has left

no

literary traces.

The genius

of

Ammonius may, however, be

inferred not only
of his illustrious

from the recorded approbation fact that pupil, but also from the
as a porter on the quays he ended
of his time.
It is

having begun
it

life

as the

most famous lecturer

a noteworthy fact that he had at one time been a professed Christian, but had renounced that creed
before Plotinus

came under

his instruction.

Plotinus remained at Alexandria (and remained

a pupil of

Ammonius)

for

eleven years

;

at

the
of

end

of

which time he joined the expedition

Gordian against the Persians, with a view, it is asserted, to acquiring familiarity with the wisdom
Persia and Hindustan. At the age of forty he settled in Rome, where he remained for twentyof

six years,

and where

his active

life, first

as a lecturer,

and, ten years
as an author
The
Enneads.

later,

when he was

fifty

years old,

commenced.
is

His sole literary pro-

duction
as

the philosophical treatise

known

^e
that

E nnea ds/
its

a

name

derived
fasciculi

from the

fact

six

component

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
a ro

19

each subdivided into nine lesser parts or books. These Enneads, which were written down by Plotinus

at irregular intervals during the last sixteen years of his life and entrusted to his friend, disciple and

philosophy not systematic, and were probably in great part an almost verbatim transcript of his
nothing
if

biographer, Porphyry, present in a highly unsys tematic form the details of a which is

own
and was

lectures.

The

friends

of

Plotinus at

Rome

were numerous, and included the Emperor Gallienus
his wife Salonina
his repute for
girls
;

and we are

told that such

wisdom and probity that many
(in

boys and

were

the anticipation of their

own

death) committed to his care, as to a holy and

divine

guardian, by their parents. Moreover, it would seem that Plotinus proved himself worthy

of the sacred trust thus reposed in him,

and that

he spared himself no pains
as,

in the

matter, inasmuch

such practical although naturally interests, he endured even to go through the accounts of his wards possessions, and was most accurate

averse

to

and

business-like,
their

saying that until they became

philosophers

property and

revenues

ought

to be kept intact

and

secure.

Plotinus died of some affection of the throat at
the age of sixty-five or sixty-six in the year 269-70 A.D. Several miraculous attestations of the divine

20

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
by Plotinus
is

favour enjoyed
biographer,

are
to

alleged

by

his

and he
(of

said

have attained to

beatific vision

the One) four times during the

six years (262-68)

when Porphyry was with him
of

at

Rome.
2.

The reader
by
the

Ancient and

to-day
of

who would
must

Modem
Methods.

profit

study

Plotinus

renounce for a time that sceptical habit
well-nigh universal,
itself

of

mind which, having become

may

safely be trusted to re-assert

in

due

season,

and boldly confide himself

to the genius of

his author.

In Philosophy as in Physical Science

a great gulf divides the methods of our day from
those
of

antiquity.

To

engage,

therefore,

in

a

rigid investigation of the so-called proofs

adduced

by Plotinus
advanced
fruitless

in

favour of each successive proposition

in the

Enneads would be an arduous and

undertaking.

The fundamental doctrines

of

Neoplatonism, as expounded by this philosopher, may be true or false in the main, or a mixture of
truth and falsehood in about equal proportion, but the utmost that can be positively claimed on their behalf (and it is no despicable claim, assuredly)
is

that the lapse of

more than sixteen centuries

has failed to deprive them of genuine significance,
or
to

produce an entirely-opposed

but

equally

complete and coherent body of metaphysic.

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
Perhaps
Principal

21

this

undoubted
is

fact of peren-

ma

l

significance

not

altogether

so

t

surP ris i n g as at
gigantic

first

sight (in
of

view of the
destructive

achievements
us

criticism

from the great free thinkers of antiquity) might be supposed. It may safely be assumed that in each successive epoch

which divide

development special facilities and special difficulties, inseparable from the sum of
intellectual

of

conditions under which

it

was taken

in

hand, have

attended the investigation of the master-problems
of Philosophy,

and
at

that, consequently, the particular

method adopted
of

the
Their

first

order in

any particular period by a mind approaching and grappling

w^ n

these problems will necessarily have

Necessity,

fo een [ n g rea t part determined (consciously

or otherwise)

by the circumstances

of

the

time.

Thus the

central stream of

human thought

stands

recorded in the writings of the great philosophers
of
all

the

historic

ages,

whose systems,

viewed

Logical Sequence,

apart from the accident of the names of are found to succeed one f-} ie j r authors,
(as

another not arbitrarily, but
strates)

Hegel
of

l

demon
central

in

an
the

order
logical

predetermined
evolution

and necess
one

itated
1

by

Logic of Hegel, ch.

i,

sees.

13,

14,

15 (Wallace).

22
idea.

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
No system
of

thought which has once been
of

recognised as the production
sopher,

a genuine

philo

and assigned a place
f

in the central

stream
ever simple

And

Per-

intellectual

development,

can

durability.

b ecome entirely obsolete,
others)

for the

reason
of

(among

that

the mental growth

the

individual

being

(broadly

speaking)

an

abstract
will

and summary
be

of that of
in

the race, there
virtual

always

found

a

community

representatives of each one of the principal grades
of
intellectual
3-

progress.

Neoplatonism.

The fundamental
of Plotinus
is

thought

in

the

system

that of the

demon
same

strable existence of an Ideal Universe, at the

time to be regarded as in the

fullest sense of the

word,

an

1

actuality,

constituting,

moreover,

the

archetype

or paradigm of the

phenomenal order
This intel

with which we
ligible
all

are best acquainted. 2

world, although absolutely withdrawn from observation,
is

merely-sensuous
its

nevertheless

(as

name
in

sufficiently indicates)

considered in

some degree subject to human
may, even
those
this
life,

investigation,

and

be directly envisaged by
developed the latent,

who have
1

sufficiently

but normal, powers of their spiritual being.
8

The

Enn. IT, Lib. Enn. V, Lib.

v,

sec.

3.

viii,

sec.

8.

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
Intelligence

23

or

Intelligible

on

this plane is to

(for knowledge be regarded as identity of knowing
1

World

subject

with

known

object,

and

it

is

therefore

merely a matter of convenience which denomination we employ) is the second in dignity of three essential the three Divine principles, known as
56S

Hypostases,
the

which

together
2

constitute
It
is

sum

of

supra-sensuous existence.

an

axiom with Plotinus that every Being tends neces of itself 3 and the second sarily to produce an image
and third
of

these

three

Divine

Principles

are

manifestations of the accordingly to be viewed as

power

of the first
first

and second

respectively.

Divine Hypostasis is the prime source and principle of all being whatsoever and is desig nated indifferently the One or the Good. It. is

The

The One

by Plotinus to a stream the Good. w hi c h is its own source, 4 whose derivative waves flow centrifugally in all directions, but which
or

poetically likened

continues,

nevertheless,

to

subsist

immutably

in

and

for itself.
all

cends

Divine Hypostasis trans known attributes, transcends even the

The

first

idea of existence, The
Intelligence.
i

and

is

known by

its first

image,

the sphere of absolute reality or essence,

^6

Intelligible
ix,

Universe or the Universal
2 4

Enn. II, Lib. Enn. IV, Lib.

sec.

i.

v, sec.

7.

Enn. Enn.

II,

Lib. ix, sec.

i.

III. Lib. viii, sec. g.

24

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
The forms
of
this

Intelligence.

Divine Universe

are a manifestation of the creative

power

of the

One, and the perfect harmony of their
is

infinite variety

the seal of

its

presence

1 among them.

The

third in order of dignity of the Divine
is

Hyposis is

tases of Plotinus

the Universal Soul,

which

The
Universal
Soul.

the image of the second, as that

the

image of the first, but which differs from its principle (the Intelligence) in
life
is

not perfectly impassive and (in a but that it perpetually revolves sense) immobile, 2 about and within the sphere of and
its

that

Intelligence,

hence aspires to and attains the Supreme Good not immediately, but (as it were) through the

medium of the Beautiful. 3 To illustrate (however imperfectly)
of the
Their

his conception

mutual relations
PIotinus
bids

of these
"s

three principles,
circle

Mutual
Relation.

enclosed

by

imagine one another and larger

but

concentric,
tinually about
it.

circle

which

revolves

con

4

The common centre
the

of both represents the One,

motionless inner circle

the

Intelligence,

and

1

Enn.

Ill,
II,

Lib.

viii,

sec.
i,

to.
2.

3
3

En u.

Lib. be, sees,
iv, iv,

Run. IV, Lib.

sec. sec.

16.

4

Enn. IV, Lib.

16.

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY

25

the uniformly revolving outer circle the Universal
Soul.

This illustration,

certain metaphorical value,

although not without a must not by any means

be absolutely and literally interpreted, for in the
first

place the

words external and internal have

obviously here no definite validity, and in the second
place
it is,

of the two, truer to

speak of a superior
so including within

principle as transcending
itself its

and

inferior principles,
it

example
the

is

than conversely. truer (although true even then

For
in

a

proximate and

figurative sense only) to speak of

body

as within the soul than the soul as within

the body. 1

Moreover, the self-containedness and

impassivity of the Intelligence (figured in the
illustration as immobility)

above

is, as will subsequently be explained, not incompatible with intrinsic or

essential

movement.
Plotinus exhorts us to reverence our

The

Human
Microcosm.
all

own

"

personalities
in

as

temples

of

the

/-.,,, Gods, for

every individual microcosm
he asserts,

these

three Divine principles are,
sort present
;

in

some
them,

present,

however, each one
of actualisa-

of

in

by no means the same degree

third, or lowest, principle only is com evolved within us in such measure that we monly can be truly said to possess it (manifesting itself
tion.
1

The

Enn. IV, Lib.

iii,

sec.

22.

Cf.

Plato Tim. pp. 33, 34.

26
as

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
the

distinctively-human
:

faculty

of

discursive

reason or understanding)

the Divine Intelligence

may

with greater accuracy be regarded as possessing

or overshadowing us,

and

it

is

only in exceptional

individuals

and

under

favourable

circumstances
its

that

our minds are irradiated by
first

effulgence.
(or

As regards the
principle) its

Divine Hypostasis
our souls
is

supreme

presence in

to be regarded

as constituting in the case of almost all of us through

out our terrestrial existence and in the most favoured
cases for
tiality.

by far the greater part of it, a mere poten Thus much of the doctrine of Plotinus

with reference to these highest matters of inquiry

seemed necessary to explain at the outset. The reader is now prepared for a more detailed account
it

development of which, as would appear to be the method most conformable with
of his

system

in the

the Neoplatonist idea,

we

shall

commence

(so

to

speak) at the base, and proceed towards the apex. 4. Accordingly we have first to explain
Matter.

what
the

this philosopher teaches concerning

material of which this phenomenal order is constructed, concerning the fundamental nature
matter.

of

To speak
the

of

the

qualities

of

matter

would
of

be a contradiction in terms, for in the
distinguishing

view
of

Plotinus
is

characteristic

matter

precisely to be devoid of all specific quality

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
and form. 1
Potentially, matter
is

27

the infinite

sum

of derivative being,

but

in act it is absolute

nonentity
abstractly

the infinite, the indefinite, the formless

conceivable

only

in

virtue

of

a
of

mental process
true intellection

which implies the suspension

and by Plotinus
"bastard"

is

characterised as inverted or
2

reasoning.

Matter

is

determinate

capable of receiving a semblance of existence by reflecting the forms

derived by the universal soul from the intelligible
universe, but in itself
it

remains unchanged and

unchangeable.

It

is

likened

by

Plotinus

to

a

mirror in which we behold not objects themselves

but merely the images or reflections of objects,
the

mirror meanwhile being unaffected by their 3 Further he explains that as the mirror presence.
in

question though omnipresent

is

invisible (for

it is

just as truly nullipresent),

we

are naturally led to

attribute reality to the illusive images
it,

we behold

in

that

is

universe,

phenomena of the sensible which universe, in itself and regarded as
to the fleeting

a totality, holds an intermediate position between
reality

and negation.
of

From

the eternal incapacity

The
Source of

matter to acquire or even to participate in real existence follow as natural con
the
2

sequences
Enn.
II, Lib. iv, sec.
8

imperfections

of

the
12.

Enn.

Enn. II, Lib. iv, sec. 13. Ill, Lib. vi, sec. 7.

28

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
its

material universe,
to

inability to

the

ideal

or

intelligible

conform perfectly order. Hence in the
evil a

system

of Plotinus,

which assigns to
matter,
is

merelyof

negative
all

existence,

as

the

indigence
is

positive qualities, that
evil.
1

of all good,

identified

with

On

this

view the possibility
is

in

general

of the

knowledge
its

of evil (that
is

to say of subjection

to fate or necessity)

alone attributable to the

Deity,

ultimately

actual experience by each one of us being due to a voluntary determination of

the individual consciousness towards the material a or sensuous a subject to which we shall plane

presently return.
The
5-

PJotinus

universe
sense that
act or
it

is

taught that the material has been created only in the to be regarded as the permanent
;

that it has image of the universal soul never had a beginning and will never come to an
end,
3

but

exists

perpetually

as

an

organism

of

complexity and grandeur, whose remotest parts are allied by an intimate bond of vital sym
pathy, or (as has expressed
action. 4
1

infinite

Kant
it)

in

adopting the same truth

are

in

thorough reciprocity of
Enn.
Ill, Lib.
sec.

*

Enn. Enn.
sec.

II,

Lb.

iv,

sec.

16.
3.

ii,

7.

II,

Lib. ix, sec.

4

Critick of
3.

Pure Reason

(F.

Hay wood),

bk.

ii,

chap,

ii,

Principle of Co-existence.

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
The Relation

29

of the third Divine Hypostasis to

the material universe next

demands our
the

attention.
is

The
Its

existence

of

Universal Soul

Spiritual

essentially

an active and eternal con

templation of the One as revealed in the 1 In virtue of this act of sphere of Intelligence. contemplation the Universal Soul may be said to
inhabit the highest region of the sphere of Intelli

gence

(or Spirit),

and

in virtue of its presence there

and

its

assimilation
order,
it

of

the perfect forms of the

intelligible

partakes of the creative power
the Universal Soul
2

of Intelligence.

Now

is

of the

nature of Reason (X^/o?),

that

is

to say,

an indi

visible, non-corporeal essence, whose property is to be present as a whole in each one of its parts or

faculties.

3

It

is,

in fact,
first

the last
of

reason

of

the

intelligible

and the

the material order. 4 (speaking
figuratively

When,

therefore,

Plotinus

of course) asserts that the Universal Soul has

two

parts, a principal part which inhabits the sphere
of Intelligence

and an

inferior part
6

which proceeds

towards the sensible world,

what he intends to
life

convey

is

that although the essential
1

oi

this

2 3
4

6

Enn. IT, T.ib. i\ sec. i. Enn. IV, Lib. iii, sec. 9. Enn. IV, Lib. ix, sec. 8. Enn. IV. Lib. vi, sec. 3. Enn. Ill, Lib. viii sec. 2,
,

30
great

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
Being
is

a contemplation and desire of a

superior principle,
fection
its

and an attainment
to

of that per

exactly

proportioned
still

the

strength

of

aspiration,
this effort,

by

powers are not exhausted but rather are eternally replenished
its

thereby, and spontaneously overflowing and becom ing in their turn creative, are accordingly manifested in the wondrous beauty and infinite variety of the Material Universe.

The Natural
Nature

or Generative
)

Power which

(thus

& eneratecl

proceeds from the essence of
is

the Universal Soul

often personified as

an image or act of the Principal as such, an inferior Power, and, The life of principle.
is

Nature, and

in fact

Nature, like that of the Universal Soul
tially

itself, is

essen

contemplative,

1

but with this difference, that

the objects of Nature s contemplation are ideas not as such, not as independent and self-created, but as forms derived by the (principal power of the)

Universal

Soul
2

from

the

bosom
"

of

the
as

Divine

Intelligence.

But these derivative forms,
the
"

mani

festations

of

procession

of

the Universal

Soul, are in fact identical with its Natural or
tive

Genera

Power

that

is

with Nature.

In other words

the direct object of the contemplation of Nature
1

*

Enn. Enn.

Ill,
Ill,

Lib. Lib.

viii,

sec. sec.

2. 3,

viii,

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
is

31
herself.
1

not the Divine Intelligence but Nature
inferior creative

Hence the
hence
in

power

of Nature,

and

part the imperfections of the

Material
Principal

Universe.

The Universal Soul

as such

(its

not, however, incline towards the material plane, but subsisting impas sively in the bosom of the Divine Intelligence
creates, upholds,

Power or Essential Being) does

and

beautifies the world through

the

medium

of Nature.

Germinal Reasons or

^
of

ie

^

mmatei a
"i

^

germs (Plotinus
or

calls
2
)

them spermatic
all

germinal

reasons

possible

created

beings,

past,

present and future, subsist then harmoniously and

simultaneously in the unity of Nature. As reasons they cannot be ascribed actual (spatial) extension,

but they have different degrees of potential magni tude in virtue of which they impose upon matter as we have seen, is the (which, privation of all
quality) images of that degree of extension
is
3

specific

which

In the same way -analogically appropriate. the sequence of events is determined in accordance
Evolution.

With causal and
the

lo S ical

Propriety.

To

of evolution

Neoplatonist the modern doctrine would have presented few difficulties ;
Ill, Lib. viii, sec.
0-TTfpiJi.aTiKol
rj

1

Enn.
Xdyot

2..

*

yevvrjTiKoi.

Enn.

III. Lib. vi, sees.

16,

17,

\S,

32

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS

he would have defined

it perhaps as the orderly under temporal and spatial conditions manifestation

of

eternal
in

and

universal
"

principles.

Professor
Science,"

Huxley,
has
in

an essay on the

Progress of
"

fact
"

expressly characterised as
(i.e.

forms of

evolution

phases of the evolutionary idea)

the emanistic theories which have played so great
a part in

Neoplatonic philosophy and in Gnostic

theology.

The phenomenal world has then been created only
in

the sense that

it

owes

its

perpetual existence
Its creation

to that of a superior Being.
7

^oTthe*
Sensibie Universe.

results not
tj

fr

m

a voluntary determina-

on

a deliberate purposive act, on the
of

part
of the
is

the

Demiurge

l

but

in

virtue

law which ordains that every
2

real existence

manifested in part by

the appearance of an image

or

copy

of inferior substantiality.

For

all

things

inferior to the First exist

always

in successive

and
been

immutable

dependency. They engendered at a determinate instant, and will never come to an end. 3 The character of the material
universe
1

have

not

is

due to the irradiation of matter
Soul,

(or

The Universal

often
"

personified

by

Plotinus

under the name of Jupiter. 8 Enn. IV, Lib. v, sec. 7,

Every Being has an act

which is * Enn.

its

image."

II,

Lib. ix, sec.

3.

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY

33

chaos) by the complex unity of forms or reasons derived by the Universal Soul from its contemplation
of

the

sphere

of

essential

reality

and absolute

By reason of the inability of matter to participate fully in the real (positive) qualities
perfection.
of existence
it

follows that the perfection of the
is

Material Universe
Soul,

inferior to that of the Universal

and

still

more so to that
it

of the

Intelligible

Universe. 1
perfection

Nevertheless

has

that
to

which
of

is

appropriate

degree of a product of

the

concourse

liberty

(reason)

and necessity
it

(or matter),

and

since its disposition serves to reveal

the grandeur

of

the

intelligible

nature,

must

not be lightly condemned or 2 irreverently criticised. It is particularly to be remembered Its
Essential
Divinity.

that the Soul which creates, upholds and administers the universe which we

inhabit

is

not allied to

it

in the

same way

as, for

example, a
result, that

human
is,

soul to a

human body
quite
to

as the
3

of

a
in

voluntary inclination,
itself,

and

remains

therefore,

untrammelled

by the bonds of souls have all by
degree
1

necessity,
their

which individual
in greater or less

submitted. 4
Ill, Lib.
II, II,
ii,

own act And since
i,

the

universe

as

8 3

Enn. Enn. Enn.

sees,

2.

Lib. ix, sec. Lib. ix, sec.

8.
*

4.

Enn.

IT,

Lib. ix, pec. 7.

c

34

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
lives in
life

an organised Being (Nature)
Universal Soul,
of the
it

and by the
in question,
is

follows that the

Divine

world considered as a totality, 1 By reason and
impassive.

essentially

of the

per

that is their conformity fection of their movements, Plotinus even attributes to the intelligible order, of Divinity to the sun, and a

immortality

species

the stars and (in a lesser degree)

to the earth

and

the planets, and accredits]

them with

the power of
2

modifying
v5al
Unity

human
to

destiny in sub-conscious
or
prayers.
is

response

incantations

For each

of the celestial bodies

con

a passive element ceived not merely as constituting
of the uniformity of Nature,

an individual
of

soul,
is

but also as possessing Soul which, like the Universal

to a member, essentially pertains but by and contemplates the intelligible order, natural soul (in virtue its lower irrational or strictly

which

it

has potential sensitivity) is in immediate the rest of the vital or sympathetic relation with
of

which

it

material universe.
1

3

Enn. Enn. Enn.
is

II, Lib. II, Lib.

iii,
i,

sec.

9.
;

sec. 4
sec.

Enn. IV, Lib.
7,

iv, sec.

16.

II, Lib.

iii,

in the universe (rivratis pia).

Everything is co-ordinated Enn. IV, Lib. iv, sec. 32,

It

this universe is a single necessary to concede that includes within itself all animals, animal (&ov ev) which

and which has

In it a single soul

(+VM

/**<)

which

is

com-

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
Nvith
Individuality.

35
tllC

ments by means
fies

of

which Plotinus

justi

the acquiescence of Divine Providence in the
injustice,
it

his view of what constitutes individuality for animals and for men. It has already been stated that each of the

will

temporary existence of misery and be necessary to explain briefly

three Divine Hypostases (the One, the Intelligence, and the Soul) is, in varying degrees of immanence

and

actuality, represented in the constitution of each

particular microcosm,
j

and

this applies not
all

B

.

to

Humanity but to

merely things whatsoever.

But the faculty which
terises

essentially charac

an individual, a
is

species,

or a kind,

is

that

which

present not merely as a latent possibility

but in active and supreme reality, which, therefore, however much or little it may on occasion be
modified by the influence of higher or lower faculties, is manifested more or less clearly in every action
of the individual, or in the actions of every of the species or kind.

member
it

Needless to say,

is

the

possession of the reasoning faculty (or judgment) which thus characterises Humanity In Man, Animals, the faculty of sensibility which constiPlants.

tutes

the animal, and
parts, that
is

the nutritive

or

municated to

all its

to all those beings

which

are parts of the universe.

36

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
principle

vegetative

which

is

par

excellence
1

the

distinctive feature of the life of

plants.

Accord

of a particular ing, therefore, as the principal activity in one or other of intelligence is manifesting itself

these three modes, will be the form in which

we

envisage

its

individuality

upon the phenomenal

plane of existence. But the reasoning faculty, judgment
Discursive or

Reason
versus
Intelligence,

understanding (Plotinus

calls

it

dis-

cursive reason) of

man must

be carefully

distinguished from the pure reason which
(in

a fashion analogous to, but not identi

cal
is

with that in which the supreme Intelligence
related to the Soul of the Universe) illuminates
its

and regulates
sessed
at
all

activity,

and

is

actually

pos

times by no merely-human indivi

dual and only occasionally
2

by those who devote
life

themselves to the intellectual

who

habitually
is

contemplate the Idea.
faculty

Discursive reason

the

by means

of

which we formally consider

and combine the diversity presented by sensation and imagination, thus forming concepts and judg
ments, which latter are or should be
in their

turn

subjected to the regulative action of intelligence
1
s

Erin. I, Lib.

i,

sec.

7.

Enn. IV, Lib. iii, Enn. V, Lib. iii, sec.

sec.
3.

30

;

Enn. IV, Lib.

iii,

sec.

18

;

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
or pure reason. 1
of Reason.

37

By

the use of this generic, disfaculty
of

The Goal tinctively-human

discursive

reason

(even

in

supposed independence

of
is

any higher principle) a certain degree of harmony established among the chaos of sensations and

images which present themselves in the course of but in order to attain our ordinary experience
;

to
Philosophy.

true
is

wisdom,
the

the
of

objective

truth

which

goal

the

philosopher,

we must not be content

to allow our merely-formal

judgments to be passively moulded by an immanent but by a supreme effort of contem intelligence
;

plation must emancipate our consciousness from the trammels of subjectivity and emerge in the

realm

of

the

Absolute,

the

sphere

of

Concrete
one. 2

Reality, where thought

and the thinker are

same proportion as we devote ourselves to this high endeavour, we
In
the

from that merelysensitive and nutritive activity in virtue of which we are allied to the animal and vegetable kingdoms,
shall alienate our consciousness

and subject, like them, to the laws of external neces and in proportion to the success of this en sity
;

deavour our
1

life

will

be rational and self-determined.
sees.
2,
;

a

Enn. V, Lib. Enn. I, Lib.

iii,

4.

ii,

sec.

4

Enn. VI, Lib.

il,

sec. 21.

38

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
No
accident can deprive the philosopher
the
,

Contemplation of IntelIcctual Beauty, nor are its inestimable privileges incompatible with an adequate discharge
,

Liberty, Serenity, Security.

of

serene

,,

of the

common

duties of

life,

since,
is

an actual economy of
effected

effort

in

the

presumably, long run

in virtue of that superior enlightenment which distinguishes the true sage from those merelysagacious individuals whose actions are regulated

by more
reason.
The

or less worldly

and

fallible

maxims derived

Irom the use of the understanding or unconverted
For the philosopher, then,
a

it is

obviously

Pi)iio:ophor
lo

m^tter
not

of

c

ExSs! 01

the

no great import whether tward circumstances of

his life

be such as would be considered

fortunate or otherwise by the vulgar, for he knows that poverty, sickness and the like are not sub
stantial,

but only apparent and

and

that, moreover,

ephemeral evils, by patience and fortitude they

can be transformed into solid advantages, can be made conducive to the soul s and edifi
cation.
1

It will

prosperity be contended, doubtless (and with

at least a

show

of justice), that for

many, the vast

mankind, the consolations of philosophy, however highly they may be esteemed by their
1

majority of

Enn.

II,

Lib. ix, sec. 9.

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
possessors,
for

39

are practically unattainable,

and that
an

them

at least the existence of

moral and physical
incal

evil are facts sufficiently real, involving

culable

sum

of

anguish

and misery.

Doubtless

the rational solution of the problem suggested by and misery is a task of this the

surveyal

anguish

of

immense
for

difficulty,

perhaps

(as
1

Plotinus himself
but, nevertheless

admits) of inherent impossibility,

and

obvious reasons,

it

must not be shirked
justify
his

by

the philosopher

who would

very

existence or the claims of that faculty

of insight

upon which
It

all

based. philosophies are ultimately

has frequently been asserted (and not without underlie reason) that metaphysical assumptions of materialism no less than those of the

dogmata

the purest idealism, for, to quote a phrase, or rather

a definition of Schopenhauer a

s,

man

is

essentially

metaphysical

animal.

Certainly
of evil

the

problem

of the nature

and source
solution,

and rational

must have its true which presumably must be

formulation in capable of at least approximate terms that shall be intelligible to the normal indi-

Our quaint metaphysical opinions in an hour of the bedside of a child deadly anguish are like playthings by Poetae. From the ".Unpublished Note Books Anima sick." How true and touching, of Samuel Taylor Coleridge."
1
"

and, coming from so ardent a metaphysician, cant an admission is this.

how

signifi

40
vidual.

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
The
solution implied or indicated

by the

utterances of Plotinus in reference to this matter

may be

interpreted

somewhat
tlle

as follows.
vve

The Problem
of Evil.

^

In

upon, in
ot

P lace obedience no less

^irst

are

called

to the dictates

reason than the consensus (or

commontwo
the order

sense) of

Humanity,
f

to recognise as universal

contrasted modes or aspects of Being
Freedom
of
Necessity.

Providcnce or freedom, and the order
Necessity
or
limitation.

To

both

of these orders

we

are each of us con

sciously allied

and

in

separate relation to either

our particular thoughts, words, actions, and experi ences may be considered, and in the one case (as
unconditioned) justified or condemned, in the other
(as

externally or internally determined)

logically
is

or causally explained.
in which,

But although there

a sense

on the one hand, our individual freedom and responsibility and on the other our
subjection
to law

may

with approximate validity be interpreted

(for this is clearly implied, although not, I think, explicitly stated, by Plotinus in the

as

absolute

usual, and practically more con venient, in considering, for instance, the terrestrial existence of a particular individual, to regard his alone as thoughts essentially unconditioned

Enneads),

still it is

(and

these only in so far as they are in the truest sense

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
of

41

the

word

intelligent), his

physical experiences

as partly fortuitous,
to strict limitation,

and upon the whole subject and his actions as alternating

between freedom and necessity, limited as regards their execution, but morally free in so far as they are in conscious accordance with truly rational
principles.

From

the

common human
is

standpoint

the spontaneity of

thought

more conspicuous

than

its

regulation

with an internal

by and evolution in accordance and self-imposed necessity (the
is

law

"

whose service
is

perfect freedom

"),

while the

converse

true with regard to the external universe,

whose

essential

Divinity

is

effectually

concealed

by the
ture.
Their
ideal

rigid uniformity of its

In the

intelligible universe there

phenomenal investi is an abso
two extremes
everything
is

lute reconciliation of theseof

Law and Freedom
it

:

Unity.

thing

is

be, and at the same time every as we would choose to have it. Every

as

must

individual

is

in

some

sort

the

whole

intelligible

universe, but

in entering

upon

material existence

we

so rupture the unity of our being
its

and narrow

the scope of

consciousness that the universal

order to which

a sense

we are allied and which is even in our own creation, confronts our freedom
in the aspect of

blind,
1

invincible,
;

an external Necessity, 1 relentless. But this
Enn, IV, Lib.
vi, sec. 3,

Enn.

Ill, Lib. iv, sec. 3

42

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
tem

external Necessity, although possessing for us as

inhabitants of the material universe actual

porary

validity,

is

nevertheless

a

manifestation

of that intrinsic
is

law which, no

less

than freedom,
is

the truth of our

own

existence,

and

therefore

in

essence, not external, not hostile, not evil (as
it)

we name
Illusion.

but rather a part of ourselves. If this view of the nature and origin of external Necessity be accepted, it

follows that, in despite of all that the senses

may

argue and loudly assert to the contrary, the suffer ings which we endure ourselves or witness in the
lives of

those about us
to the

owe what they have

of

sub

stantiality

occult will of the very person

who endures them and that regarded merely as evils, fortuitous and supererogatory evils, they are
illusory

and unreal.

Hence, too,

it

follows that

such words as torture, desolation, injustice, ruin are not sterling coins impressed with the stamp
of

authentic

Reason,

but comparable rather to

specimens of a paper currency hurriedly issued to meet the exigencies of a temporary emergency,

words whose recognition and use
pher at
least,

is,

for the philoso

a merely provisional concession to the
or,

dictates of

mundane expediency,
of

which

is

the

same

thing, to the claims of sensibility

and

illusion.

The mental attitude

Plotinus has certainly

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
very
little

43
of

in

common on

this point

with that

modern pessimism, but simply and crudely to have characterised his system as an optimistic one would
practically

have amounted to a gross misrepre

sentation.

Plotinus docs not deny or ignore the existence of suffering and evil any more than he
denies the limitation of

human

faculty

and human

wisdom

he simply denies the ultimate reality of such evil, the transcendental validity of such
:

limitation.

injustice the
,.
.

Granted that the order which obtains in thc material universe is such that,
apparently
J

quite

undeserved
befall
its

suffering

Exception.

must

frequently

conscious

inhabitants in the course of a particular abstractlyexistence, it still remains true that

contemplated even from this point of view a certain rude justice For consider in detail the is tne mle justice
-

the Rule.

factg of

any particular
full its

isolated existence,

and, conceding to the
the victim of any
of

liability

to

become
with

those accidents which are

inevitable in an imperfect world,

regulated

a view to universal rather than particular interests, a it will, nevertheless, be found that
Accident.
,.

substantial

Reason

(in

the

guise

ol

f

a

moral or physical weakness or delinquency) can of such or usually be assigned for the occurrence

44
such
tion.

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
a
misfortune
to the

individual

in

ques
to

Moreover
Further Considera-

(argues

Plotinus)
first

it

is

be remembered in the

place

that

every sensitive inhabitant of the material
plane has by
of
sensitivity
its

own

act entered

upon the

state
1

with

all

the

liabilities

involved,

and, secondly, that
there
tice,
is

in the long

appearances notwithstanding, run justice and nothing but Jus

course

inasmuch as every individual monad in the of an infinite cycle of successive incarna
compensation for the good or
2

tions receives exact

bad

qualities

it

displays.
for those

The
Dignity
of Life.

As
of

who

consider the existence

of evil

and

suffering,

even as the outcome

laws of an unimpeachable integrity, incompatible with belief in the benignity of Divine
Providence,
Plotinus

has

very

little

sympathy

with their scruples.
so framed

The conception

of a creation

and ordered as

to preclude for its inhabi

tants

all possibility of

acquiring the dignity insepar
is

able from tragic experience
to

the

robust

sanity,

the

austere

profoundly repugnant but dominant

aesthetic

sense of this philosopher. His general attitude in regard to this tremendous, this crucial
1

*

Enn. Enn.

Ill, Lib. Ill, Lib.

ii, ii,

sec. sec.

7.

13.

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
problem

45

may
the

of the justification or explication ol evil, best be indicated, however, by quoting from of the

Enneads a few
cases

pregnant sentences which

Tims, after asserting that where the moderately virtuous are illused by the vicious, it is usually because the former are in some respect the inferiors of their oppressors,
in

bear upon the subject.

he exclaims that

"

God

is

not called

upon

to

fight
s life

for cowards, for the law wills that in war one

should be saved by valour, not by
are

x

prayers."

Nor

we

justly entitled to complain that the

wicked

have a richer crop if they cultivate the soil better than we who are virtuous. 2 We must not, he

warns

us,

extend our demands upon the action

of

Providence to the extent of annihilating the need for our own. 3
Variety
in Unity.

^
all

is

true that rogues

and

fools are at

times

p

]

entiful)

but

Qne

does

not

condemn a tragedy because one
than heroes appear in
it,

sees other characters

a slave for instance, a person
to destroy the

who speaks badly
of
the-

:

it

would be

beauty

composition were we
all the

to cut out these inferior
*
figure."

persons and
Metempsychosis.
1

passages in which they

Then, too, in estimating the -justice of Divinity, account must be taken not
Ill, Lib. Ill, Lib.
ii,
ii,

8

Knn. Enn.

sec.

8.
*

*

Ibid.
11,

sec. 9.

Enn.

Ill, Lib.

KCC.TM

46

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS

merely of the present but also of the past and future, for Destiny makes those slaves who have
b.?en masters in a

former
this

life

if

their powers,
"She

and

change

is

they have abused beneficial to them.
ill

renders poor tJwse

who have
even

employed

their
1

riches, for poverty is of service

to the virtuous."

The good things

of

the soul which are the only

substantial benefits are invariably apportioned in

accordance with our merits.
"

The combats,
beings,

too,

in which men, those

Calamity.

Aortal
with

engage between themselves
of regularity resembling

an appearance

that

of the

Pyrrhic dances prove clearly that these
so

matters,

considered

momentous,
that death is

are

but

as

the

games
for

of children,
2

and

no just ground
of

terror."

8.

Readers

of

the

journal

Marie

may recall a psychological observation of the writer s, to the effect Detachment that she distinguishes a part of her
and the

Bashkirtseff

nature (moi spcctateur, she
surveys, as
it

calls it)

which impassively

were from above, the actions, incidents
of her daily
life,

and emotions

criticising

them

in

a quite impersonal

way with reference to their poetic or dramatic rather than their ethical or con1 2

Enn. Enn.

Ill, Lib. Ill, Lib.

ii, ii,

sec.

13.

sec.

15.

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
ventional fitness,

47

and absolutely

indifferent at all

times to the suffering on the part of the lower
consciousness involved by the satisfaction of its peremptory demand for the spectacle of an intense

and varied experience. An intellectual man," Emerson (revealing the same idea as the says
"

property of a saner and
"

less

emotional tempera
;

ment)

can see himself as a third person

there

fore his faults

and delusions

interest

him equally

with his successes.
in affairs

Though he wishes to prosper he wishes more to know the history
of

and destiny
drifting
cess."

man

;

whilst the cloud of egotists

And

about him are only interested in a low suc the same fundamental thought may
in

be recognised
soul itself

the frequent comparison of
in

life

by Plotinus to an immense drama
(its

which the

higher faculty) does not, or should
its

not take part, but only
The Drama
of Life.
j

1 image or shadow. This drama has been composed and

s

conducted by the Divine art which
good, bad

governs and supports the universe and the various
parts in
it,

and

indifferent,

allotted

to individuals

whose

free

and voluntary

disposition

renders

them

suitable to perform them, are

by the

said art so regulated

and

combined as to result in
spiritual beings
a

a glorious harmony. 2
1

As

we

are

Enn.

Ill, Lib.

ii,

sec. 15.

Enn.

Ill, Lib.

ii,

sec. 17.

4$
free to

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
choose our

own

roles in the

masque

of the

universe, but the exercise of that freedom does Predestina- not enable us to transcend the scope of Divine Providence, and is therefore com 1 with pre-ordained patible as
necessity.

For,

Cacciaguida in Paradise explains to the
Contingency, unfolded not to view

poet-

Upon
Is all

the tablet of your mortal mould, depictured in the eternal sight ; derive th not necessity,
tall ship, hurried down the flood, the vision that reflects the scene. 2

But hence

M,,re than the

Doth from
Providence

in its relation to the

wicked

is

pared by Plotinus to a commandcr-in-chicf
provides for the actions of the enemy, but

com who
not

is

accountable
Choice
Freewill.

and

As human beings here on earth we are frce onl Y by virtue of, and in P r P rtion to OUT possession and employment of the reasoning faculty,
for

them. 3

enlightenment by the pure intellect which is source; free in proportion to our conformity

its

to the dictates of the particular genius or

demon

which we recognise as the governing principle of our career. The freedom of the will as manifested
1

Enn.
el

Ill, Lib.

iii,

sec.

3.

Divine Comedy of Dante (Gary).
37
3

Paradise, Canto xvii

seq.

Enn.

Ill,

Lib.

iii,

sec.

2.

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
during actual terrestrial existence
is

49

not, however,

to be formally conceived as a capacity to choose

between diverse particular alternatives as they arise, but simply as the general ability to devote ourselves to rational and universal ends.
arbitrarily

Choice, or freewill,

is

in fact expressly characterised
allegorical

by Plotinus as an

designation of the
results
1

bias or general disposition

which

from the

act of the soul before generation.

Nevertheless,

the

life

of the true idealist

is

in the long

run recog
the other

nised even

by the vulgar

and unenlightened as

essentially divine

and unconditioned.

On

hand, the lives of each one of us are under the sway

Destiny in exact proportion to our surrender to the demands of appetite and the capricious
of

guidance of the merely-sensuous imagination.
9.

Plotinus

teaches

that

the

soul

of

amTthe
C
Facut"

human being is the abode of a demon or familiar spirit, representing the
cac ^

dominant motive

of the individual career,
is

the idea to whose realisation the soul in question

2 This theory was undoubtedly voluntarily devoted. derived from Plato and is entitled to the credit of

his authority. 3
1
2 8

Plotinus explains that

the

demon

Enn. Ill, Lib. iv, sec. 5. Enn. Ill, Lib. iv, sec. 3. Cf. The Banquet. Cf. also Matt,

xviil. 10,

a text which

D

5o

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
G
US

(or genius, lar

as
is

we should

say) of a particuidentical

Sd
is

career

practically

with

Talent

which

to that the faculty immediately superior the soul of the habitually exercised by
in

individual

and question (his leading talent), of such and that, presiding over our employment refuses to allow us all other faculties, this demon which we to sink much below that plane of action
have chosen
to renounce the pursuit of our ideal.
acts,
(or

That
to the

which

then,
genius)

is

the principle inferior

demon
live the

[oi

our

life,

which can

his example. neither evade ;his influence, nor equal
If

we

sensuous

life

we have reason
life

for our

demon (that is our mundane sagacity),
if

ideal will be a
if

of practical

the rational, an intelligence,
1

the intellectual, Divinity.
three

Doubtless, however,

these

primary grades

may
it

be

subdivided

ad libitum.

From

this theory

of course [follows
call

that in a certain limited sense
or

what we

genius

of all human inspiration may be predicated that higher kind to which but genius of beings the word is now commonly restricted remains the
;

demonic faculty prerogative of those whose
least

is

at

on the

intelligible plane.

One

is

tempted to
formu

was the basis
lated
1

of the doctrine of guardian angels as

by the Fathers of the Church.
Ill, Lib. iv, sec. 3,

Enn.

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY

51

quote here from the "/Table Talk/ of the poet Coleridge an aphorism to the effect that genius is
1

invariably metaphysical.

Plotinus holds that the soul on leaving the

becomes

identified

with

the

faculty
activity

to

body whose
been

manifestation

her

terrestrial

has

mainly devoted, and that even before the dissolution
of the

body the lower

faculties of discursive reason,

sensuous imagination and sensibility
spiritualised

may
"

be so

by

their

of the Ideal as to

employment in the service become in a measure separated
"

from the material organism and reinstated in the a spiritual emanciPursuit of sphere of Intelligence
ideals.

p a tion which

is

at

death. 2
ideal,

Thus the mere
result, so far as
is

fact

once completed by of devotion to an

properly so-called

(despite the fact that its

normal

are concerned,
partial

contemporary appearances downright failure, or at most
success)
is

and broken

nevertheless from

the spiritual standpoint an absolute guarantee of
its full

and actual attainment.
evident that in the passages just expounded Plotinus used the word demon in a
sense quite different from that in which

It is

Demons.
All genius is metaphysical because the ultimate end of genius is ideal, however it may be actualised by incidental and accidental circumstances." Loc. cit. S.T.C. 2 Enn. Ill, Lib. iv, sec. 4.
;

1

"

52
it

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
is

commonly employed

at the present day, to

indicate the existence of latent powers within the

sphere of

human

personality, anticipating thus the

modern theory

of the sub-conscious.

There

is

no

true mythological system to be found in the works
Mythology
in the

of this philosopher
his disciples of

who
all
is

(unlike

some

of

Enneads.

the Alexandrian school)
at to

seldom
stories,

alludes

the

ancient

and when he does so

careful to indicate

an allegorical signification. He appears neverthe less to have believed in the existence of a super

human

order

of

beings

of

ethereal

rather

than

immaterial

essence,
in

inhabiting

celestial

regions,

and intermediate
the

nature and function between
purely-intelligible order

denizens

of

the

on

the one hand, and those of the terrestrial plane on the other. 1 To these beings also he assigns the

name

of

demons, but whether he considered them
the

identical with

demons mentioned above who

presided

over

particular

human

destinies,

or

that these latter constituted only one species of the order, or were, again, of a quite distinct nature,
is

not altogether clear.

It

may

perhaps be inferred
loosely to indicate

that he uses the word

somewhat

a certain plane of moral and psychical
for in speaking of
1

dignity,

Love

as the motive of
5.

human

Enn.

Ill, Lib. v, sec.

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
aspiration

53

and

spiritual ascension,

he distinguishes

three grades of the affection, the
of

first or supreme which degrees he personifies as a God, and the

second as a Demon, while the third, or predomi nantly-sensuous, he denominates a passion of the
soul.
1

10.

Plotinus defines Love as the desire

Concerning to be united with a beautiful object,

and

and the
Emotions.

thereby

to

produce
herse if
j

or

create

beauty.

or the soul o f the

universe, that

soul

of

which Nature

is

the express manifestation, creates in virtue of the

contemplation
intelligible

(spiritual

union with)

celestial

or

beauty.

Those

human

beings

who
ideal

loving beauty in the sensible world have not the

reminiscence

or

intuition

of

intellectual

or

beauty,
fact

still

owe
is

their love of the former to the
latter.

that

it

an image of the

Love

is

always the result of an affinity, conscious or other
wise,

between the soul

of the lover

and the object
is

of his passion.

Our

desire to produce

a direct

outcome
for

of the instinctive craving for immortality,
is

the essence which
itself.

immortal

is

none other

than Beauty

Those and those only who

love beautiful bodies without the craving to be
1

Enn.

Ill, Lib. v, sec.

i,

et seq.

54

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
united with them, love them for
their

Pure Love.

ideal

beauty alone.

From
is

the attention with which the celestial soul

the Divine Life which applies itself to contemplate
its

object,

the supreme Love
it

is

born

an eye

full of

the object which

beholds, a vision
it

made
World

one with the image which celestial soul, exists Nature
as such

forms.

Below the
desire the

the Soul of the

and

of its
is

contemplation and

Love which
earthly

its

marriages

eye and which presides over In this aspect the born. is

terrestrial soul

be identified with Aphrodite, or Venus, and the Love born of her with the Eros

may

or

Cupid

of

mythology, just as the universal soul

conceived as Demiurge or governor of the universe 1 In so may be identified with Jupiter or Zeus.

human love experiences or begets in a desire of the intelligible it is capable its subjects of converting towards the intelligible plane the
far

as this

souls of the young.
S V the Geni us

The love inherent

m an(^ P r
js

or

Demon

of a Life.

^g
a

P er to tne sou l * eacn individual d emon which presides over his
statement
which,
so
far

life

as

it

offered goes, corroborates the explanation already
of the

word demon,
it

in

many

of the passages in

which

occurs in the Enneads, as an allegorical
1

Enn.

Ill, Lib. v, sec. 4.

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
or poetical designation of

55

a

Love
of

in itself

is

always good,

psychological fact. but often by reason

of intelligent beings) the ignorance (the vice and desire of the good leads us to fall into evil,

pure love
Uty>

of lustful replaced by the cravings These unnatural cravings are appetite.
is

bora of the faults of the

soul,

not of

its

1 pure essence.

In the view of Plotinus passion, af

functions fectability, sensation, are

not of the soul,

which, properly speaking, even in contemplation as already is always active, nor of matter, which,
explained,
is

in

itself
"

sionable, but of the

immutable and unimpres which is living body "that

neither

spiritual

entity partaking equally Thus when the living organism kinds.

nor corporeal, but a composite and imperfectly of both
is

affected

with pleasure or pain, the soul,
observes

itself

impassive,
;

and impression so called, the emotion similarly, for the soul properly in the of shame, for example, consists merely
and remembers
the

opinion
Shame,
Fear,

that

such or such an act, purposed or
. .
.

in the performed, is ignoble. Similarly j j act of external vision, the eye indeed
,

is

the

recipient

of

an

impression

is

more or

less passive,

but

it is

the soul or

mind which
if

really perceives.
1

Plotinus argues that
Ill, Lib. v, sec. 7.

the soul

Enn.

56

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS

as such were liable to receive impressions, to suffer,

example, such an emotion as fear, the part of the soul so affected would not perform its function, and the appropriate bodily reaction would not
for

occur. 1

In brief the doctrine of Plotinus
attribute to the soul
is
"

is

that

we can only
passivity,"

passions without
these

that

to say, that

we must regard

terms thus applied as metaphors derived from the nature of the body. 2 Even memory, which might ^ e adduced as an obvious instance of Memor not a mental impression, properly so called, is,
Passively

Retained
Impression.

however, says Plotinus, to be regarded as the active retention of a form created than
imprinted
on,

by,
this

rather
is

the

soul. 3

That

so might indeed be suspected from the fact

(mentioned also in the Enneads) that the duration

and

intensity

of

a

particular recollection
to the intensity or or

is

pro

portional not so
of

much

magnitude
with

the
it

bodily

impressions

disturbances

which

originated, as to the
of the

degree

of attention
it.
i

on the part
Vice and nce
-

mind

or soul

which created
the

Plotinus

recognises

existence

in

every

human

being of a reasoning faculty

the soul properly so called, and an unreasoning
Enn. Enn. Enn.
Ill, Lib. vi, sec. 4. Ill, Lib.
vi,

a

sec.

i.

Ill, Lib. vi, sec. 3.

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
principle

57

the natural soul, which under the

immedi

ate guidance of universal reason, the laws of nature,
presides over bodily functions, growth, nutrition/

reproduction.

Vice

is

a state of discord between

the individual reason on the one
faculties
ral

hand and those

which pertain to the unreasoning or natu soul on the other. 1 The proper function of
is

the soul

spiritual vision, culminating in

wisdom
and the

or speculative insight,
of

and
of

hence the supreme vice

Man

as an essentially reasonable being,

most

fruitful

source

moral delinquencies and
is

perversities of every kind and degree,
of blindness

that state
results

and ignorance which inevitably
failure

from

refusal,

or neglect

to

cultivate

the

faculty
like,

in

question.
in

Greed,

lust,

anger and the

although
directly

particular

instances

they

may

traceable either to mental apathy and simple or to that state of imperfect rational pure control which results from bodily affections or

be

defects,

are invariably

symptomatic
is

of ignorance.

That
even

is
if

to say that ignorance

always a cause,

not necessarily the sole cause, of immoral behaviour. The natural or animal soul of a human

body

in

guarding the welfare

and

asserting

the

instincts

and

desires of the material organism as
in regulating those pro-

such, and Nature herself
1

Enn.

Ill, Lib. vi, sec. 2.

58

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
which
characterise the inorganic plane of

cesses

existence,

allow no regard for particular interests

or spiritual exigencies unrecognised

and unenforced
will to

by the individual
the uniformity

intelligence

and

rupture
of

or limit

the universality

their

respective operations.
C
"

*

Hence the danger of neglect ing the voice of conscience and attending
the bodily sensations, for in
of

4-

1

Ochlocracy, exclusively to (Mob-Rule).

theuproar

a crowde d assembly

it is

not

the wisest counsellor whose
the noisiest

word prevails,
;

it is

rather

and most

factious

and the tumult

of these create compels the representative

wisdom

to

remain
din.

seated,

powerless,

and overborne by
it

the

In the perverse
1

man

is

the animal

which

reigns.
ii.

The

doctrine
to

of

Plotinus
of the

with

Substance
Corporeal Essence.

reference

the

genesis

mena i
cated.

universe has already

phenobeen indi-

It

was explained

that,

for

the

Neoplatonist

as such, although it plays an philosopher, matter as a whole, is no important part in the system

positive entity possessing specific qualities capable
of clear

conception

and

logical

definition,

but

that as an objective metaphysical abstraction it of is to be regarded as the nurse and receptacle
1

Enn. IV, Lib.

iv,

sec.

18.

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY

59

not temporally, but generation, anterior therefore, and as the privation ontologically, to generation,
of all positive qualities, that
is

of all goodness,

it

may
or

be identified with

evil.

It

may
the

be thought
of

speculatively
calls

envisaged

by a process which
inverse

Plotinus

bastard

reasoning,

that process by which we apprehend the essence It is poetically or sym of the intelligible world.
bolically

described

as

aspiring

eternally

to

real

existence, but as capable of appropriating only

an

Universal Soul, imperfect image or shadow of the the order which appears to us thus constituting
in the guise of

an external universe,

a

universe

which, despite the large element of illusion which to its composition, is by most of us accredited
pertains

with
life

genuine

and
of

unimpeachable

reality.

The
is

and essence
is

the Universal Soul (which

Reason)

external to matter, not in the ordinary

sense of the word, but as being of a totally contrary

and
in

irreconcilable

nature. 1

Matter

participates

goodness without

ceasing to be evil,

but the

phenomenal or sensible universe is intermediate between good and evil, form and matter, reason 2 The creative and fatality, order and chaos.
power
1

of Universal

Reason
15.

(or of

any reasonable

Enn. Enn.

Ill, Lib. vi, sec.
Ill, Lib. vi, sec.

n

;

Enn.

Ill, Lib. vi, sec. 17.

6o

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
is

principle)

manifested by

its

conferring

upon the

indeterminate a form resembling, though inferior
to, its

own,
1

itself

subsisting meanwhile impassively

Hence, in the consideration of beings which occupy the sensuous plane of existence, the
apart. soul
is

to be excluded, just as in enumerating the

inhabitants of a town one might leave out of account

the

foreigners

who were

sojourning

within

it.

2

The
Factors of

factors of existence on the pheno-

nienal or sensible plane

may

be

sub:

sume d under the following categories ExSence (i) Substance, (2) Quantity and quality,
(3)

Place and time,
of

(4)

Movement,
,

(5)

Relation. 3

The name

substance (u^:

a),

or corporeal essence,

may be applied with equal propriety to the material substratum of a given object, its form, or the
tertium quid which results from their identification
for

each

is

the object
of

itself.

4

That which only
it is

exists in the object
qualities,

which
etc.),

affirmed

(e.g.

as

whiteness,
itself

is

not

substance,

which as being

subject

(viroiceipevov),

and

possessing independent existence, cannot properly be affirmed of any other subject. Thus to assert
1

8

*
*

Enn. Ill, Lib. Enn. VI, Lib. Enn. VI, Lib. Enn. VI, Lib.

viii,
iii, iii,

sec.
i.

2.

sec.
sec. sec.

3.

iii,

4.

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
that Socrates
is

61

a

man
is

a particular

man

tantamount to saying that a man, and is therefore merely
is
1

an identical proposition, not a genuine specification. The fundamental characteristic of the
e

fe mfs
Becoming.
is

material order

which

falls

within

the

^^

Qi

the categories mentioned above

not existence at all in generation or becoming, the higher sense of the word, but perpetual acquisi
tion of an existence that
2 must ever be incomplete. In other words, the life of Nature, although an of the life which is complete, universal and

image

to time everlasting, belongs rather

than eternity.

But we who

in virtue of intelligence (or spirituality)

may

be said to dwell both in time and eternity are

capable of acquiring direct and primary knowledge of both spheres knowledge which, so far as it
goes,
is
3 absolute and irrefutable.

Time and
Eternity.

I2

-

Eternity
s>

relates

to

that

which

ex i st

Time
for
it

to that

which becomes.
is

The

constitutive property of eternity

perpetuity, not

repose merely,

is

compatible with

move

ment, though not with generation or decay. It is identifiable, identical, in fact, with the Life which
is

infinite,

immutable and complete, the Life which
1

J 3

Enn. VI, Lib. Enn. Ill, Lib. Enn. Ill, Lib.

iii,

sec.

5.

vii,

sec.

10.

vii,

sec. 6.

6s
enters

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS

and emerges from the One, yet which never leaves Him, but exists around and within and by

Him. 1

Time has been
with movement,
2

identified

by some philosophers
is

but this

obviously

false,

for
is
it

movement can
(asserts

cease but time cannot.
identical

Nor

Plotinus)

with the measure of
of the extension says),

movement

in general, the

number
(as

which follows movement

Aristotle

nor
(as
is

a mere consequence or accident of

movement

Epicurus

pretends).

Time, says the Platonist,

the Life of the (Universal) Soul, considered in the

movement by which
other.
Its

it

passes from one act to an
is

composed of equal uniform, and insensible changes. The universe exists in Time, and therefore in the Soul. Thus time, which is one only by continuity, presents an image
of the unity of the Eternal,

continuous course

and

may

be

itself

con

ceived as the duration of the Life pertaining to the Universal Soul. It is engendered by the first

movement
includes
If
all

(that of

the

divine

Intelligence)

and

other movements. 3
it

this

be a correct account of the matter,

follows that the abstraction
tially objective,
1

we

call

Time
its

is

essen

and that so
4,

far
5.

from
*

being a

*

Enn. Enn.

Ill, Lib. vii, sees.

The

Stoics.

Ill, Lib. vii, sees.

10-11.

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
mere subjective standard
of events,
it

63

for

the

measurement

were truer to assert that

we measure

time by movements than movements by time. It was born with the universe (as Plato has alleged),

and hence precedes

all

other

movements and pre
engen
of

scribes their quantity.

It is not, therefore,

dered, but merely indicated,

by the revolutions

the celestial bodies.

As a property of the Soul 1 it is one and the same throughout the universe. T 3- O ne of the most vital elements of Doctrine of
the Soul.
t ] ie

S y S tem

of

Plotinus

is

that portion

of

be summarily denominated the Doctrine of the Soul, comprising his views con
it

which

may

cerning

the

following

important

topics
(2)

(i)

The

Nature

of the

Soul of the Universe,
of

that of

individual souls

those of

human

every degree, and especially beings, (3) the mutual relations

of individual souls

with one another and with the

soul of the universe,

and

(4)

the precise manner

which particular souls may be said to belong to or be present on. the phenomenal or His doctrines con existence. intelligible planes of

and degree

in

cerning

all

these points
incidentally

will, it is

hoped, be in some
elucidated
in

measure,
this

or

directly,

essay,

but a separate
Enn.

detailed account

and

Ill, Lib. vii, sec.

12.

64

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
is

exhaustive criticism of each scope of
The
Life
of Nature.

quite beyond the

its

intention.

The
inert

external, material or

phenomenal

Universe was conceived by Plotinus not
mass, devoid of real unity and

as a

mere

stocks and congruity an edifice adorned with as a stones, nor even as a lifeless machine, but

with one mighty Organism, animated throughout
that is to say, purposive energy the life of Nature, On the other hand not only does every her Soul.

minutest part of
or less degree
of the

contents participate in greater in the life (potentially or actually)
its

whole
is

in universality,

but conversely every

such part
universe,

not merely and simply a part of the

but has also a degree of potential or 1 This actual independence a soul of its own.

independence potential merely in the unorganised elements of Nature and even in those living creatures

which participate only
faculties
of
activities are, therefore,

in the

lower

unreasoning
vital

the universal soul,

and whose

absorbed in the functions

of nutrition

highest (so

and reproduction, is manifested at its far as mere temporal existence is con

cerned) in Man, and especially in the truly rational men who, like wise servants, career of the Sages
as

distinguished
1

from unenlightened
iv, sees.

slaves,

are

Enn. IV, Lib.

26-7.

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
able at the
(that
is

65
s

same time

to

obey

their

master

orders

to

submit to the decrees of Necessity) and
Plotinus asserts that the Soul
raison d etre of
all

1 preserve their essential freedom.

The
Umversal

is

the

things,

the supreme

phenomenal world, the 2 lowest reason of the In Hegelian intelligible world. dialectic the different of thought, as repre phases sented by the great philosophies, are regarded as a series of definitions of the Absolute 3 and that
phase of the logical idea which corresponds to the Universal Soul 4 implies the complete comprehen

reason

of

the

and explanation of Nature as a system of cause and effect, but is capable of only a prelimin
sion

ary exposition of the sphere of essential reality

and

ideal perfection.
first

In the

place the Universal Soul

is

to be

regarded as inhabiting the highest

region of the

intelligible world, and its life is in essence an active, impassive and eternal contemplation of the one true Being. 5 But the essential or constitutive act
1

*
8

Enn. IV, Lib. iv, sec. 34. Enn. IV, Lib. vi, sec. 3, C, ncerning Memory. The Logic of Hegel (Wallace), chap, ix, 160,

4

The phase

p. 288. of discursive reason or abstract understand

ing.
6

lace),

Pre- Kantian Metaphysic. chap, iii, p. 60. Enn. Ill, Lib. viii, sec. 44

Cf.

Logic of Hegel (Wal

E

66
of

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS

such a being as the Universal Soul is to be care from the act which proceeds fully distinguished
or emanates from
it.

The
is

first

is

the essence or

being

itself,

the second

its

reflex or image,
is

and

the image of the Universal Soul

the inferior

but

still
1

divine (because universal) principle called

Nature.

In other words the Universal Soul has a
life

twofold
it

and

action, in virtue of

one of which

contemplates and assimilates the ideas of abso lute wisdom, while by the other, which contem
plates
its

own
of

ideas,

thus conceiving the generic
it

principles

Nature,

simultaneously
conferring
inferior
for

regulates

the a

corporeal

universe,

upon
to,
its

matter

form resembling, though

own. 2

example) have also the potentiality of this twofold manifestation, but with them, for reasons presently to be explained,
Individual souls (our

own

the contemplative and regulative functions cannot
co-exist in perfection, but in successive periods

of time.

predominate alternately Nature is to the
formative,
nutritive,

Universal Soul
generative and

what

the

sensitive faculties of the

human

soul

are to the soul proper or

human

reason, but the
necessarily

Universal

Soul,

as

such,

although
iv, sec.
viii,

1

Enn. IV, Lib. Enn. Ill, Lib.

13.

sec. 4.

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
cognisant of
future time,
all

67

the events of past, present and

owes no part of this knowledge to from without, and cannot therefore impressions
be accredited with sensitivity in the sense in which

we

ourselves possess

it.

The

sensitivity of Nature,

analogous in the material universe to the faculty so-called in ourselves, is manifested as a vital nexus in virtue of which
(as

or that

power which

is

every minutest and remotest part of the universe is intimately correlated and sympathetically united to the rest. 1
taught)

Plotinus

believed

and

The universe

as a whole, although thus

endowed

with a potential sensitivity, may nevertheless be considered as impassive, because the Soul which animates and pervades it has no need of sensations
for its

own

enlightenment, and does not, in fact,

regard Nevertheless, and for reason that Nature is a living organism,

them.

the

simple

sympathetic

throughout, individual parts of the universe have a quasi-sensitivity, and respond to impressions

example, the answer to human invocations, confer benefits upon men, they do so (says Plotinus)
Maglc>

The Basis from without.
stars,

When,

for

in

not by a voluntary action, but because their natural
or unreasoning psychical faculties are unconsciously
affected. 2
1

Similarly,

demons

may

be

charmed
iv, sec.

Enn. IV, Lib.

iv, sec. 37.

Enn. IV, Lib.

42

68

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
spells or prayers acting
1

by

upon the unreasoning

part of their nature.

Thus much

is

conceded to the views of those

who

confide in the efficacy of magical incantations, but Plotinus is careful to add that the true philo
to the temptation or sopher is not only superior need to indulge in such practices on his own account, but also beyond the reach of injury by those who

would employ them against him.
which
is not,

To pursue
is

that

as

if it

were indeed the true Good,

the

the charm of only possible form of surrender to real terrors magical incantations which has any
for

such as him. 2

The
The Stars and count

stars
of

and planets, which on
.

ac-

the perfection of their

move

ments and the supposed perpetuity of and their existence were regarded by Plotinus other philosophers of antiquity as direct mani
festations of celestial or semi-divine
Intelligence,

are said then to respond to external impressions,

and an absolute only unconsciously and incidentally of knowledge derived a posteriori,
;

independence

by means

of impressions as such,

is

in like
fact,

manner

as a whole. alleged of Nature
i

In

Nature as

Enn. IV, Lib. Fnn. IV, Lib.

iv. sec. iv, sec.

43. 44.

1

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
the reflex or image of
Nature an Unconscious Agent.

69

the Universal Soul upon and as distinguished from that matter, Soul of whose wisdom it is the passive
expression,
is

an unconscious entity.
a
faculty

Its

analogous to sensibility, but the Soul of the Universe pays no heed to these sensations, being already endowed
parts

are

correlated

by

with complete and comprehensive

knowledge.

1

The earth

itself

is

in like

manner animated by

an individual soul and intelligence (respectively known to mythology as Ceres and Vesta) and,
as in the case of the stars, the consciousness of

the Earth-Soul
sensitivity

is

not necessarily involved in the
of

by means
planet

which

its

body
a

is

related

to the universe as a whole.

The vegetation which
manifestation

clothes
of

the

is,

however,

the power of the vegetative principle of the
is

Earth-Soul, and

fancifully

compared by Plotinus

to the living flesh of
Individuality.

an animal body. 2

I 4r egard

Something must now be said with
to the relation of individual souls

1

Enn. IV, Lib.

iv, sec.
all

13

;

Enn.
is

IV, Lib.

iii,

sec.

10.

A common

property of

being

to render other beings
living in
q,

like to itself.

Hence the Universal Reason

and
like

by Reason impresses the material universe with
reasonable nature.
2

Enn. IV, Lib.

iv, sec.

27.

70

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
which
\ve

to that Universal Soul of

have

just

been

In the Platonic and Neoplatonic sys speaking. tems every atom is not merely an atom, but also a potential universe, every individual intelligence is in like manner, that is, implicitly, a universal

Mind
Its

1 the so-called intelligible universe.

For the
includes

basis
Basis.

of

individuality
is

(which
case

an eternal every idea, subsisting immutably in the universal mind, partaking therefore of the Divine universality,
atomicity)
in

but constituting meanwhile the particular intelli 2 gence which dominates a given terrestrial career.

But individual
Individuality Soul as a

souls

are

also

in

another aspect
of the Universal

mere constituent factors
Function
of the
.

which generates and includes them,
on the material plane, organs mem b ers are a p ar t O f the bodies
as,

...

just

Universal.

an(j

to which they belong, while our bodies
offspring of other bodies,

are

the

and subject
in

like

them
3

to the laws which condition matter

general.
distinc

Or

to use another comparison, just as the

tion between the formative, sensitive

and reason

ing faculties

is

compatible with the unity of the

soul which comprises them, so the existence and
1

8 8

Enn. IV, Lib. Enn. V, Lib.

iv, sec.
vii,

8

;

Enn. IV, Lib.

vi. sec.

}.

sec.

I.

Eiin. IV, Lib. ix, sec. 4.

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY

71

even the independence of individuals is compatible with the unity of the Universal Soul. Individual
souls are therefore distinct without being separate 1 another and from the soul of the universe.

from one
Losmic
Periods.

Plotinus appears to have believed that
in the course of ages the general cycl
is

of evolution

from time to time interrupted by
of

the termination

a

great

cosmic period.

The
is
2

number

destined to of creatures of every degree
is

be born during one such period

finite,

and

the number of germinal reasons predetermined by Universal Soul through contem engendered by the the Divine Intelligence and developed plation of Not of Nature. in sequence of time by the power number in question (of germinal only is the whole embraced by the Universal Soul, or
reasons
forms)

but every individual
the

soul, being

also

in

a sense

whole
the

intelligible

universe,
of

comprises within
creature

itself

potentialities

every living

to which a par destined to be born in the period Thus the ticular existence of its own belongs.
will be determined completion of a cosmic period on the material plane of by the due appearance to be the whole series of individuals predestined

born.
i

3

8

Eim. IV, Lib. Enn. V, Lib.

ix, sec. i.
vii,

2

monads. Psychical germs,

sec. 3.

72

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
The existence
of

Umty and
Multiplicity of the

the

Divine

Intelli-

gence in virtue of an absolute co-integration of infinite variety with essential
oneness,
is

Universal
Soul.

properly

described

as

con

stituting a multiple Unity, while that of the Universal

Soul, possessing unity in virtue of its eternal parti

cipation in the one Divine Being and also as con
ditioning the existence of a system of individual
souls,

and multiplicity by reason
(in

of its

presence
as,

entire in each of these

the
is

same way

for

example, the universal notion

present by implica

tion in every proposition of science)

is truly characterisable either as a unity or a multiplicity, as

both One and Many. Or to express the same truth in terms of mythology, we may assert with Plotinus
that in cognising the infinity of his
(the
life

Jupiter

world) neously observes that his action upon the universe
is

Demiurge or governor

of the

simulta

one. 1
I 5If

Incarnation
or
.

now w e
chief

transfer our attention

to

the

Descension.

problems

connected

with

the existence of individual souls as such, a thought which inevitably occurs to us
is

that,

being of

one substance with the reasonable essence

which constitutes the governing principle of the universe, they must be entitled to some share in
1

Enn. IV, Lib.

iv, sees.

10,

n

;

Enn. IV, Lib.

ii,

sec.

2.

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
its

73

divine prerogatives.

In

the

case

of

human

souls, the constitutive essence or principal power of which is not mere sensibility but the compara

tively-divine faculty of discursive reason or under

standing,

prima appear stronger than

this

facie

claim

will

naturally

in that of souls pertaining

to lower orders of conscious existence.

individual soul belongs in virtue of its reason able nature to the Reason- World or intelligible order,

The

and
be

in so far as

it

participates in this nature

it it

may
is

said, like

the Universal Soul of which

in

one sense a part, to inhabit the

and

to

share in

intelligible universe, the creative and administrative

1 But the individual powers of the Divine Being. soul is not (even in the case of humanity) a homo

geneous entity
able.

not merely and entirely reason As in the Universal Soul we distinguished
is

between a principal power whose life was bound up with that of the Divine Intelligence and an inferior
power, called Nature, which was the immediate
principle

and source

of

natural

phenomena and

even included a sort of impassive quasi-sensitivity,
so in

the case of the

human

individual

we

distin

guish between the constitutive faculty of reason properly so called and the natural or unreasoning

1

Enn. IV, Lib.

vii, sec.

3

;

Enn. IV, Lib.

viii,

sec. 4.

74

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
the formative and. regulative principle of the human body, and in virtue of which
is

soul which

The

Natural, or Vestigial that

body

is

endowed with
1

sensibility,

""irritability,

and the power
life.

of reproduc

tion

in

short with animal
of

That element
alone of
its

the

human
is

personality which

nature belongs immutably and entirely
not then the constitutive
of

to the intelligible order,

or

distinctively-human faculty

understanding,

but the individual mind or
principle

intellect,

which

is

the

and

source of the reasoning faculty,

and

which, inasmuch as it is of one substance with the Universal Mind, and superior, therefore, in essence

aven to the Universal Soul, were more appropriately denominated spirit or essence than soul. But the
oul,

being,

not only in virtue of the limitation
itself,

implied by individuality, but also in
The Soul
Imperfectly Rational.

fectly

reasonable,

is

necessarily

imper unable

to maintain itself eternally in the exalted

sphere of absolute intelligence.
inhabitant of the intelligible world the soul

,

,

.

.

As an
is

only

^potentially material, but this potentiality of incar nation being the unreasonable part of the soul
litself,

a result of
itself,

its

inherent heterogeneity,

is

bound
if

to declare

and must be
the
Lib.

fully actualised,

only

in

order
1

that

power
i,

of

contemplation

Enn.

I,

sec.

7, et seq.

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
which constitutes
ligent
its life

75

and the
to

life

of all intel
realised
:

beings

may be
of

exhaustively

for

action
inferior

itself is,

according

Plotinus, merely
its

an

form

contemplation

end

being

knowledge with possession.
sity of descension,

Hence

arises the neces

that
its

is

the voluntary concentra

tion

by the soul of

powers on the formation

and regulation of an individual bodily organism which is the manifestation of its own inherent
potentialities,

the

result

of

such

concentration

being a partial obliteration of the individual con sciousness of affinity with and participation in the
1 intelligible order.

In other words

to express the

same thought more concretely, and figuratively when an individual soul, weary of sharing in the
administration
attention
of

the

universe, concentrates
is

her

upon

isolation, loses

weakened by this her wings, descends from her throne
herself, she

and becomes imprisoned For when of this act

in the sphere of necessity. of

self-contemplation
is

the

desire to belong to herself exclusively

born, an

image of herself (to wit, the body)

is

caused to

appear, and by regarding this image she confers a
1 Enn. IV, Lib. iii, sees. 13, 15. In descending from the intelligible world souls first enter the sky, and then assume an aerial body by which they are joined to their

earthly body.

76
definite

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
form upon it, and charmed by this form it, and a living inhabitant of the material
is

enters

universe

the result.

1

individual soul

This descent into generation on the part of the is at the same time necessary and

voluntary, or rather, perhaps, instinctive, for it is not only a fall from a high estate into a compara
tively

humble and degraded

one, but also

an example
in
;

of the universal

law which ordains that

every

case the potential shall be fully actualised
being,

and
law

so

far

as

individual

souls

are

concerned,
this

the

only

conceivable
fulfilled, it
fall

means by which

could be

may

in a certain sense

be re

garded not as a

but as a normal development. 2
in virtue

The Universal Soul,
is

of

its

universality,

privileged without descension or voluninclination

Descension
the Logical tarY

towards

the

material
forfeiting

InSuality .P

lane

(consequently

without

any degree the prerogative of Divine contemplation) but rather by an act of condescen
in

sion or procession to create, uphold

external

universe

which

is

its

and regulate the 3 But the body.

1

a

8

Enn. IV, Lib. Enn. IV, Lib. Enn. II, Lib.

viii,

sec. sec.

4

;

Enn.
cf.

Ill, Lib. ix, sec. 2.
2.

viii,

4,
7.

also sec.
is

ix,

sec.

It

that individual souls also differ In that the bodies which they enter and subsequently

important to notice from the Universal Soul,

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
individual

77

body

in order to live safely in a

world

governed with reference not so

much

to the

imme
and

diate welfare of individuals as to the justice

of the system which comprises them, more intimate alliance with the reasonable requires a and hence principle to which it owes its being

harmony

:

it

follows that the individual soul
in

is

called

upon

to

renounce
celestial

a measure the supreme privilege of
its fall

tion

it

into genera undertakes the voluntarily and legitimately

contemplation when by

1 administration of a particular terrestrial career. But the individual soul as being essentially

asonable
Result of
Intelhgence.

that

is

as

beill

not

nly

enlightened by the wisdom of an indivi-

dual intelligence, but even through that
related to the

one

celestial

wisdom which
has

is

its

ultimate

source

and

goal,

an

ineradicable
privilege

tendency

towards,

and

an
to,

inalienable
its

of returning in

due time
repose.

original state of

blessedness

and

So

speak of a soul s conversion
a

it is that when we we simply imply that

fundamentally

reasonable

principle

has begun
of necessity

to re-emancipate itself

from the bonds

and to

re-enter

its

native sphere of liberty and

control have previously been organised express agent of the Universal Soul.
1

by Nature, the

Enn. IV, Lib.

viii,

sec.

2.

78
reason. 1
ity,
life
it

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
And
is

further, in the case at least of

human

even possible to pass through earthly
entirely the privilege
for

without ever forfeiting
question,

in

the

true

philosopher

does

not

allow his tranquility to be disturbed by the vicissi

tudes of earthly existence, estimating at their true
value, that
gifts
is

as of no essential value, alike the choicest
direst reverses of fortune.
evil,

and the

It is

not

then absolutely an

but
to

in

some sense

also

an

advantage form and

for the soul,

bestow upon the body

life, because the providential care thus accorded to an inferior nature does not prevent

the being which accords
in
(or at the

itself remaining worst from ultimately regaining) a
it

from

state of perfection. 2
Briefly
as to this

summarised, then, the doctrine
important point
is

of Plotinus

that our souls descend
to

into

bodies and become

bound

them because
and guardian

these require

more intimate

direction

ship than the
plete
fall

body of the universe, which is com and immortal. In so far as this necessary
"

or descent into

generation,"

this inclination

of reason

towards the plane of sensibility, is to be counted as a fault or sin, it finds its adequate
in the state of limitasec.
sec.

and appropriate punishment
1

*

Enn. IV, Lib. Enn. IV, Lib.

viii, viii,

4.

2.

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
tion which
it

79
Plotinus

involves,

and

in that alone.

recognises, however, the possibility of absolute or
spiritual wickedness (sin properly so called),

which

he places in a different category and for which he hints that full retribution at the hands of demons
is

ultimately

exacted. 1
in

acts

committed

Generally speaking the each particular existence will

determine the good or ill fortune experienced by Reincar- ^ ne sam e individual soul in the course
nation.

Qf

subsequent

incarnations.

The

ad

herence of Plotinus to the doctrine of metempsy chosis, so far as that implies a belief in the alter
nation of longer or shorter states of spiritual repose with successive terms of terrestrial existence, as
the normal
souls,
"it

if

not inevitable destiny of individual

is

clear

and

definite.

Thus he

asserts that

is

a universally accepted
it

belief that the soul
it

com
to

mits errors, that

expiates them, that

submits
it

punishment in the infernal regions, and that
into

passes

new

bodies."*

Also he declares that

"the

gods

bestow

upon each the destiny which pertains
his
existences"
"

to

him,

and which harmonises with
successive

antecedents in his
filwv).

(Kara

d/j,oi/3d<;

Every one

who

is

not aware of this is grossly ignorant of divine
*

matters."

With respect
12.

to that part of the doctrine,

1

Enn. IV, Lib. viii, Enn. I, Lib. i, sec.

sec. 5.
8

Enn.

II, Lib. ix, sec. 9,

8o

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
human
souls
is

however, which affirms the possible degradation
of to

the

guardianship
his

of

animal

bodies, his tone

more doubtful and

statements

are less explicit.
if it

Thus

in

one passage he writes,

be true, as they say, that the bodies of animals
fallen
is

imprison
souls
St
Augustine view of
s

which

souls, the part of those separable does not strictly pertain to those bodies. 1 Saint Augustine, an avowed student and admirer of the

human

Metempsychosis.

Platonists,

and

especially

of

Plotinus

much

ot

whose teaching he has been

the means of incorporating into Catholic theology, takes serious exception to the whole doctrine of

metempsychosis,

asserting

that
is

the

soul

once

restored to celestial existence

restored for ever.

The

belief

of

Plotinus would seem to have been

that while such complete and permanent restora
tion,
if

conceivable,

is

at

any
is

rate very exceptional,

the normal course of events

that by every sojourn
is

on the

intelligible

plane the individual

perma

nently raised to a higher grade of spirituality, so that upon the occasion of each successive descent
into

generation there

is

a considerable improve
of the last.
It is

ment upon the conditions
Reticence
3.S

curious

tO

that Plotinus,

who was born more than
after Christ,

Christianity,

two centuries
1

whose revered

Enn.

II,

Lib. lx, sec. 8.

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
master
professed

81

Ammonius
believer,

had and

at

one

time

been

a

who

long terms of his residence at

must during the Rome and Alexandria
and conver
has not in his

have taken part

in

many
new

discussions
religion,

sations concerning the

Enneads a
anity.

single unequivocal reference to Christi His only known contribution to religious

controversy of any kind is the ninth book of the second Ennead, which is devoted to the refutation
of the tenets of Gnosticism, a hybrid product of

Christianity

and Zoroastrianism which would assur
l

edly repudiated with scorn (and justly so) the rational adherents of either.
16.

be

by

The WorldSoul as

Returning now to the considera,

,.

tlon

ot

J

the

material universe,
is

we

will

Movement,

con clude what
to

to be said of
principle
first

its

relation

the

immaterial
In the

to
it is

which
to be

it

owes

its

existence.
its

place

noted that

vital
for

harmony and unity
reasons
of

are

an

image
the

(imperfect

essential

unity

already stated) of the universal being. Our

own

world, everywhere approaching the universal
it

being, finds

everywhere present and everywhere greater than itself. Hence, according to Plotinus,
"circular"

the tendency to a
1

movement on
many

the part

In the main, but there were

kinds and degrees of

Gnosticism.

82
of

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
the

heavenly
as

bodies,

such
of

movement being
aspiration
to

regarded
universal.

an expression

the

Hence, too
analogous

(may we not add), those movements in time which

Development

appear

^

^

phenomena

of

and development and the

ever-broadening

growth and

and organic evolution. ascending spirals of cosmic This omnipresent and inexhaustibly-active Soul
is

then the immediate ontological basis on which the material world reposes, and includes the said

world in virtue not of spatial magnitude but of Without occupying any determinate universality.
locality
it

is

nevertheless present in equal degree

(that

is,

as a whole) in every locality,

individual being partakes of its power, unity
universality in greater or less degree.
versal Soul being infinitely

and every and

The Uni

greater in
itself,

splendour
little

than the universe

power and imparts but

of itself to that universe,

but imparts, never
(so far as

theless, all that the latter is

1 capable of receiving.

This principle of unity, in advancing

it

can be

said

to

advance)

towards

other

things,

and in fact does be appears to become multiple, come so in certain respects. Nevertheless the
Universal Being
is

so constituted that

it

can never

be separated from absolute unity, which is vir it manifests its activity, tually present wherever
1

Enn. VI, Lib.

iv, sec.

5.

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
and which
is

83

the ultimate source and goal of all that exists, for all that exists is One. Thus the

corporeal
tially

mass

of

the universe

possesses, poten-

or

Being in
And
Life.

by implication, the whole omnipresent every one of its component parts. 1
P arti cular body acquires life, the soul which, as an organ of the uni destined to animate it, does not actually into or become identified with but
it,

When

*

versal,

is

descend

rather the
fluence
is

body comes within

the sphere of its in

and thus attains

to the world of life*

Life

metaphorically described as a sort of heat or light emanating from the soul and engendering in the body appetites, pleasures and pains. Thus the body,
as

representative
indefinite,

of

the
its

comparatively

-

formless

and

voice heard in that part of the animal nature which is, as it were, common

makes

soul, just as a confused crowd, impelled by hunger or some other passion, might besiege a deliberative assembly seeking for guidance and control. This guidance and control in
is,

to itself

and the

fact,

conceded by the One Reason to the body of the

universe
bodies.
this

by individual souls to particular But the individual soul in listening to appeal and consenting to undertake this re
into

and

sponsibility, enters
1

commerce with,
iv,

and, as

2

Enn. VI, Lib. Enn. VI, Lib.

sees. 8-9.

iv, sec.

16.

84
it

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
were, borrows something from nonentity
;

and

some degree to be consciously the universal, becomes a limited or at one with
ceasing, therefore, in

determinate being. 1 Plotinus warns us that we are

not

M
Sp?ritSS?
locally

crudely to picture to ourselves
Q
jd eas

the.

world

as

separated.

ex i s ting

on the one hand

matter

separate from the world of matter, and on the other as located apart from it

;

and then to imagine an irradiation from the one above to the other below. Such a conception,
literally interpreted,

would
not

in fact

be meaningless.
comparable,
for

This

irradiation

is

strictly

example, to the reflection of a flame in water; nor again is matter locally separated from those
ideas

which are the archetypes of the transient forms which it assumes. On the contrary, the
matter
the
is

rather to be conceived as surrounding

idea

on

all

sides,

impinging upon

it,

so
it

to
all

speak, without

contact,
its

and receiving from
it is

that in virtue of

vicinity

capable of receiving,
also

without
plete

intermediation,

but

without
latter
for

com
con
2

permeation by tinues meanwhile to subsist
1

the idea,

which
in

and

itself.

2

Enn. VI, Lib. Enn. VI, Lib.

iv,

sees.

15-16.

v, sec. 8.

N.B. The modern

scientific

hypothesis of a space of four (or more) dimensions, and of a four-dimensioned order of existence, concealed from

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
17.

85

intelligence,

and the
16
"world*

a natural and inevitable pro,. gression the act of contemplation which

By

,

cons titutes in essence the
individual,

life

of every

and indeed that
1

of

Humanity

as a whole, rises by degrees from Nature to Soul,

from Soul to
order

Intelligence.

Following the same
consideration of that

we pass now

to the

sphere of divine reality, yet ideal perfection, which
is

partially

and temporarily

veiled

from our ken
exis
in its

by the self-imposed limitations of terrestrial tence. The human soul (as understanding)
acts of

judgment

adapts to perceived or

remem

bered sensuous presentations the principles which it possesses in conformity with these principles
;

judgments are made, and to them the truth and universality of such judgments (in so far as
all its

they prove to be true and universal)
attributable.
The
ideal
2

is

directly

It is obvious, asserts Plotinus,

that

wuen we
picture
is

declare

that such or such a

Basis ol the

beautiful,

such
the

or

such

an

Judgment,

action

virtuous

or

reverse,

and
that

when, moreover, our
and yet

confident expectation

us,

in close propinquity to

to be based

upon much the same conception

our own, would seem as that which

Plotinus here endeavours to express. 1 Enn. Ill, Lib. viii, sec. 7,
2

Enn.

Ill, Lib. viii, sec. 4.

86

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
be universally confirmed

this verdict of ours will

the exist proves well-founded, we demonstrate ence within ourselves of some absolute and in
controvertible authority,

an

oracle

whose

pro

nouncements we may misconceive or misinterpret but which cannot in themselves be otherwise than
1 authoritative and true.

Nor can

it

fairly

be con

tended that the standard in question is furnished by terrestrial experience, for to which of us has life
here below ever afforded the spectacle of actual

moral or even physical perfection
is

?

The standard

one of desire, of unrealised aspiration, and the standard great point is that upon the whole the
of
<^

each

(as

evidenced

by

the

appreit)

ation or display of approximations to

Criteria.

the

flaw

p roves to ^ e the standard of all. Despite of imperfection which characterises all
experiences,

terrestrial

there are but few mortals

who do not believe themselves capable of recog even nising perfection, given the opportunity, few who
are not,

more

or less consciously,

more

or less

arduously and persistently, endeavouring to adapt their own lives, in some one way at least, to the
universal standard.

When
still

in

moments
1

of

doubt and perplexity, the
is

small voice of the oracle

heard,

its

accents

Enn. V, Lib.

i,

sec.

n.

A METAPHYSICAL
are

STUDY

87

by most
its

of us instinctively recognised as divine,

and

decrees

therefore

spontaneously

by the understanding and promulgated
of speech or action
;

in

adopted terms

but

it

is

only the elect

who

deliberately set themselves to penetrate the shrine,

and standing at length
dwelling deity,
discover
figuration of their own.
Ascension.

face
in

to face
its

with the in
a trans

features

and withal beautifully has Saint Augustine, in a passage which
Very
clearly,

was probably inspired by the study
indicated

of Plotinus,

the

phases

of

this

ascension from the
"For

world

seeming to the world of Truth. what caused examining (he writes)
of
"

"

me

to
;

admire the beauty of bodies

celestial or terrestrial

and what was
on
things
to be

of service to

me

changeable,
thus,
this

and
not
;

judging soundly This pronouncing

in

ought

examining,
judging,

I

say,

what was the cause
did so judge,
true
I

of

my

so

seeing I

Eternity

had found the unchangeable and of Truth, above my changeable
I

mind.
to

And

thus by degrees

passed from bodies

which perceives through the senses and thence to its inward faculty, of the body to which the bodily senses communicate external
the soul,
;

things

;

and so

far,

even beasts possess

it

;

and

thence further to the reasoning faculty, to which

88
is

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
referred, for the exercise
is

of

judgment upon
the

it,

whatsoever
"That

received
this

from
found

bodily

senses.

And when
its

itself in

me

also to

Which

is."

up

to

b e a changeable thing, it raised itself own understanding, and diverted my
itself
:

thought from habit, withdrawing
troops
of

from those
that
so
it
it

contradictory

phantasms

might discover what that light was, by which

was
it

bedewed,
out
to

cried

preferred

when without any doubtfulness That the unchangeable must be the changeable whence also it
;

knew

the unchangeable

itself,

without some

know
with
at

ledge of
preferred

which
it

it

could not with
changeable.

certainty have

to

the

And
it

thus

the

flash

of

one
is.

THAT WHICH
things

And

trembling glance then saw I

arrived

Thy

invisible

understood
l
i.
20)."

by the things which are made
be remembered that in speaking

(Rom.

Abstract
Intelligence.

^ w^
of the

\Vorld-Soul

we

distinguished be
of

tween a principal activity
called Nature,

in

virtue

which

it

contemplates the Divinity, and an inferior faculty which simultaneously regulates the
material universe.
The
vii,

Every individual soul has
of

also

1

Confessions

S.

Augustine

(Revised

Trans.),

bk.

chap, xvii, p.

128.

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
an
inferior part directed

89

towards the body and the

external environment,

towards

and a superior faculty directed the individual intelligence and related
But, in
the
still

thus to the intelligible world as a whole.
this
life,

higher faculty, intellect or pure

reason,

is

actualisable, as
in

a part of the normal

consciousness, only

the case of
in

humanity

(the

reasoning
only
in

animal), and,

exceptionally

supreme degree, favoured individuals and
circumstances,

the

under
in

specially

favourable

even

man.

In order to envisage the Reason World,
itself has, in

the intelligence
to be thought
lative

the

first place,

simply

(for, according to the Platonist, specu
is

thought

actual vision), 1 and, to this end,
us, in

Plotinus

directs

examining as factors
determinate

of

consciousness

the

several
to

modes
of of

of

our own existence,
formative,
nutritive,

make

abstraction

the

sensitive,

and even

the

reasoning faculties,
of

and to contemplate by means
imagination, alluded to above,

the

intellectual

that reflex of the informing light or essence which

remains. 2
indivisible

But
form,

this

light

enters

the

soul

in

an
to

and ordinarily reveals

itself

consciousness, only indirectly,

by illuminating the

multiple presentations of the sensuous imagination.
1

Enn. V, Lib.

i,

sec.

a

5.

"Enn.

V, Lib.

iii,

sec. 9.

9o

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
conceived
or

In other words, the ideas of pure reason can only

be figuratively
of

expressed in

terms

the

common

understanding.

Nevertheless,

by

every such influx of pure light the soul is intellectualised and raised to a higher plane of consciousness,

u

itil,

at last,

its activities

may be merged
it

in those

of the intelligence itself,

which

then beholds not

as

an image or

irradiation,
itself.

or even as one with

but as actually present, To the view of such

an emancipated consciousness the whole perfection of the intelligible universe is unfolded, and con
stitutes the
ficial

sum

of reality, all that

which to a superin

scrutiny appears evil

and fortuitous

the

nature of things either ceasing to exist or appearing

once for
The
Intelligible

all

in

its

true

and necessary
Soul,
is,

relations.

1

The Universal
a

regarded as the

World

is

principle of Nature, *

as

we have

already
:

Multiple

explained,
reconciles,

both
or

one

and
to

many

it

seeks

reconcile,

the

extremes of integrity and aloofness, of universality and individualisation. In the Divine Intelligence
this

reconciliation of opposites,
as

which appears

in

Nature

a
is

perpetual

but

never-accomplished
Nature, then,

tendency,
is

absolute and eternal.
multiplicity,
sec.

unity
1

and

but the archetype of
Enn. V, Lib.
iii,

Enn. IV, Lib.

iii,

30

;

sec. 5.

91

Nature (the Reason World) is a multiple unity, a unity-totality. 1 In this and all other respects, the constitution
of

the intelligible world

is

precisely

that which

would meet the requirements but, nevertheless, the form of
which
arises
is

of a flawless logic,
belief or conviction,

from the use

of the

common under

standing,

here superseded by the form of truth

or apodictical necessity,
as such,
is

in like

and the reasoning process, manner superseded by direct and
2

actual knowledge.

The
OI
T .
?i-

life

and being
and,
are

of the Divine Intellifree

are
th
Ki

absolutely

and
(for

self-

determined
statements

nevertheless
in

the

Intelligible

Plane
are one.

fact

identical),

the

structure and order of the Reason
are absolutely necessitated.

World
the

Liberty

is,

in essence,

freedom

from

extraneous
is

compulsion,
it
is,

and

Divine Intelligence
being such as
it is,

that which
alone,
it

because,
all
3

and so

conforms in

which respects to the perfect law

is its

own

being.
say,

But the

Intelligible Universe, or, as
is

we should

the Spiritual World,
1

by no means to be regarded
is

by
1

Enn. V, Lib. 1, sec. 8. This doctrine Plotinus to Parmenides.
Enn. VI, Lib. Enn. VI, Lib.
ii,

here attributed

sec.

21.

viii,

sec. 6.

92
as a

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
mere figment
of subjective, imagination.
it

On

the contrary, not only has
existence, but
it

actual and substantial

constitutes the one,

comprehensive

actuality,

supreme and contrasted with which

the substance and even the forms of the phenomenal order are mere phantasmal hallucinations. It is
objective truth, concrete reality, the divine source

wisdom, virtue and beauty. How else account for the simplest facts of evolution ? for
all

of

Evolution

tllat

nise

which, in any department, we recogas the latent S crm of a
possible

improvement

on

previous

conditions,

could never realise itself, if there did not exist anteriorly an active superior principle, of which superior principle the new development,
in its

mature

state,

is

to be the direct

and outward

manifestation. 1

Before we proceed with our attempt to exhibit the Plotinian idea of an intelligible order, the reader

should be reminded that

in

the Neoplatonist system

itself ranks but as the second in power and dignity, the supremacy being

the Universal Intelligence

assigned to that ineffable principle to which

we

have already referred as the
the Good,
1

first

Divine Hypostasis,

or the One.

We

have said that the

vii, sec. 8, In opposition to the 14. materialistic developmental hypothesis of the Stoics.

Enn. IV, Lib.

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
Intelligence
actuality,
of the

93

was to be regarded and this remains true
is

as
;

the supreme for the nature
;

One

superior to thought, being, actuality

superior, therefore, to the Divine Intelligence itself

;

which

latter

remains, nevertheless, the
first

Absolute

Reason, the
Being, par
as the

thinking essence,

and the One

excellence,

spoken of by Plato and Plotinus
Is, and,

Animal That
There

more simply, by Saint
without
separa-

Augustine as That
Intelhgence as active tion

Which
is

Is.

distinction

Contempla- ~
tion of the

between the Intelligence and the
;

One

for

the

latter,
(for

sense

unknowable

although in a the nature of

the First Divine Hypostasis can only be negatively

determined by
Universal
Intelligence
of,

human

reason)

is

not so to the
of

Intelligence.
is

The

life

the

Divine

essentially

aspiration to,

and attainment

an active contemplation of, the nature

of the

and although it is doubtless true that the being and life of the Intelligence are absolutely self-determined, it is, nevertheless, and in equal
;

One

degree, the fact that the Intelligence receives
life

it s

and being from the One.
the

The

life

and being
self-deter

of

Intelligence are self-derived

and

mined, because the contemplation in question (of the One by the Intelligence) is an eternal act, not

something which had a beginning and comes to an

94

end
of

in time,

and not the merely passive receipt

an impression. 1
But,

to,
it

although the Divine Intelligence aspires and even assimilates, the nature of the Good,
its

receives that nature not in

own

simplicity

and formless unity, nor, on the other hand, so dis persed and broken as to forfeit the seal of its divine
origin,
|a

but differentiated in such a

way

as to exhibit

single Universal Being of infinite

grandeur and com

In other words, the plexity. Intelligence becomes a multiple unity in the act of thinking and
realising

fie principle superior to

itself.

In attempting to

apprehend the simplicity from that very

of the

One
in

it

withdraws

simplicity,

and

thus emerging

from the One, bearing with it as the multiple object of its thought an impression of the nature of the One, it becomes essence, consciousness, life, thought
in short,
Primal

or

steadfastly examine the conc eption of an absolute and selfEkments sustained Bein S which results from the
-

the intelligible universe. 2 l8 If now we

Noti on

foregoing considerations,

we

necessarily

become aware

of certain generic ideas

which are

to every phase of intelligible existence, which, therefore, are associated in the Plotinian
1

common

2

Enn. VI, Lib. Enn. VI, Lib.

vii,

sec.

17.

vii, sec.

15

;

Enn. V, Lib.

iii,

sec.

n.

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
system as prime

95

categories or elements of the notion.

The

first

step in the direction of this free
is

and necesand

1

sary development
tinguishes between

taken when the reason dis
as thinking subject

itself

the idea which (although permanently and essen
tially

identical with itself)

is

its

object.

If,

next,

we proceed to exhibit the several component ideas implied by the first step of our analysis (thus carry
ing this preliminary process to
its

logical

termi

nation, and returning to the point from which we
set out),

we

obtain,

first,

essence or true being (the

substance of the intelligible universe), then thought
(i)

as

permanent

idea, or stability, (2) as

movement,
the differ

or

life,

and, finally,
(2)

we

recognise both

(i)

ence and

the identity of the several terms of

the whole conception. 1
Essence.

Movement.
Stability.

Difference.
Identity.

These categories, or genera, are
In other words, the
as

common

to every

phase, or species, of the universal Notion.

sum

of reality, essence, or,

we should

say,

Spirituality,
(i)

may
;

with equal
(2)
(4)

truth be conceived as
or order
;

a process

a scheme
objective

(3)
1

subjective or intelligent,

Enn. VI, Lib.

ii,

sec. 8.

96

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
;

or intelligible

the complete demonstration of any one of these modes or aspects being tantamount
to the exposition of
Universal

them

all.

T 9j)j

^n

um

contemplating
Intelligence

the

Good, the
creates,

er.

vme

conceives,

contemplates and comprehends (not as they subsist in the Good, but so as it can receive them) the spiritual entities whose form is an image of the
nature of the Good.
In order that the multiplicity

which thus
unity which

arises
is

may

be

itself
it

its its

principle,

an image of the must have, as it

were, a unity of

own, and,
itself,
it

at the

same

time, in
a

order

to

constitute
of
all

like

that

principle,

measure

things,

must be complete and
or,

comprehensive,
universal. 1

finite-infinite,

in

one

word,

Doubtless this conception of a uni versal number constituting the fundamental law
of
intelligible

existence,

is,

in

common

with

all

from the point of view of the empirical understanding an impossible one. We cannot
universals,

mathematically
Hegel on
Universals as Laws.

(or spatially)

represent to ourselves

a

number which
shall

shall

combine the cateinfinity, or, rather,

gories of finitude

and

which
ciple

be

itself

the

common
the

prin
as
of

whence

both

conceptions

arise.

But,

Hegel has pointed out,
1

even
sec.

in
;

domain
18.

Enn. VI, Lib.

vi,

9

ibid.

sec.

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY

97

physical science, the existence of universals, that
is,

of laws, cannot be

sented by the senses.
:

apprehended or even repre "The kind, as kind, cannot

be perceived the laws of the celestial motions are not written on the sky. The universal is
neither seen nor heard,
mind."

its

existence

is

only for the
of

Similarly,

in

the

matter

conduct,

where duties and rights hold the rank of laws, an action is True when it conforms to those universa
formulae.

But
of

we

representation

give any adequate such notions as these of right

cannot

and duty, which nevertheless are available to us all. It was by the use of the speculative reason or
imagination that Plotinus was led to conclude the necessary and even (in opposition to
intellectual

Aristotelian doctrine)

the substantial existence of

universals

;

and

it

is

only

when he proceeds

to

endeavour to express the result in terms of the understanding that he finds it necessary to modify every statement by an, at first sight, contradictory
one,
his

suggesting

rather

than logically

expressing

fundamental thought, and finally leaving the whole in this necessarily imperfect form to be
assimilated and re-intellectualised

by the mind
number,
G

of

the reader.

This

universal
is

and

essential

whose

existence

implied by

that of Universal Reason,

q8
is

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
the principle

by movement

in

accordance with

which that Reason
versality)

(retaining meanwhile its uni becomes differentiated and individualised

throughout.
it

In the Divine Intelligence, as such,

is

identified
in

by Plotinus with the
life

acts

which

appear
justice,

the

of

that

Intelligence,
like.

namely,
In other

wisdom, science,
it

and the

words,

exists as eveloped in the Being, as

deve

loped in the Beings, of the intelligible world. The unity of the Intelligence is thus, as it were, con
tinuous, that
is,

it

movement
1

or

life

engenders by its own essential the multiplicity which it com

prises.

Number
llty

20.

The

participation

of

beings

and

objects in unity on the one hand, and
is,

multiplicity on the other,

according to Plotinus,

a part of the subject of their participation in intel
ligible forms, or ideas.

several

parts

of
is

the
in

material

For unity, as found in the universe, however
it

advantageous,

a sense accidental, but as

exists in intelligible beings,

and
is

especially in the

One Being par
subsistent.

excellence,

it

essential
is

and

self-

And

as universal

number

the measure

of the life of the universal Being, so every individual
intelligence,

every idea, has
1

its

constitutive
sec.

number

Enn. VI, Lib.

vi,

15.

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
or measure, in
is

99

harmony with which

it

abides and

manifested.

Essential or Constitutive

to
. l

Number
of the Individual.

These essential numbers, and the ideas which they correspond likewise, as
the
,

a so

universal
,.

number
,

itself,

are

,,

implicitly or immediately present in the
(so

background

to

speak)

of

every

human con

it is only when they are mediated the recognition of their manifestation in other by

sciousness, but

beings and objects that they become truly our own. Thus, the explicit number which we recognise in a
particular object, and which becomes related to us

(becomes our own) in the act of numeration, is itself a manifestation of essential number, not therefore

merely a product of our own subjective activity. 1

Every human intelligence possesses, moreover, a constitutive number or essential harmony special
to
itself,

number.
vital

and immediately related to the universal The soul and the body (severally or in

be regarded as numbers, but the participation of the latter in unity proper
unison)

may

also

is

at

best precarious
21.

and incomplete.
is

Time and
Space in
Eternity.

Plotinus teaches that on the intel-

ligible

plane time

replaced or super-

by eternity, which determines that propriety
1

seded

and space by the
certain
16.

intelli-

Enn. VI, Lib.

vi,

sec.

TOO
gibles

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
shall

contain,

or be contained

by

others. 1

Taken
but

as

they stand

these

statements

afford

little

assistance in the task of reconstructing
his

for ourselves

notion of

an

intelligible

uni

verse.

Fortunately, however, the careful study of the Enneads will enable us in several important par
ticulars

to

supplement

the

poverty and eluci
preliminary proposi

date
tions.

the obscurity of these

A
Sy

fundamental factor in the system
is

of Plotinus

m
Tnthe

unwavering
all

belief

in

the validity of

an

~und
^.3

symbolic interpretation of
concrete Nature
is

System

of Plotinus.

Na

^- ure<

a symbol

of the absolute

and

universal, so, in like

manner, individual abstractions from the formal
ordinary reflective consciousness are symbols of the corresponding ideas of pure intelli Thus time is a symbol of eternity, and gence.
space an image of the ideal unity of the apparentlyfactors
of

opposed principles of universality and individuality, difference and identity. Hence the possibility of idealising our conceptions of time and space and
thereby attaining to real knowledge of the corre

sponding modes of
1

intelligible existence.

Enn. V, Lib.

ix,

sec.

10.

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
This,
view of
"space"

101

of

course,

is

precisely

what

is

controverted by the critical philosophy
* Immanuel Kant, who, denying to time and space any objective existence,

and regarding them as mere subjective (though pure and a priori) forms of, respectively, internal and external sensibility, asserts that their sole use
as

modes

of actual cognition

is

to enable the

under

standing to arrive at conceptions of, and judgments concerning the data of common experience. Any conclusions with regard to supra-sensuous existence,

based upon argument in terms of space and time, he utterly and even scornfully repudiates, even where (as in the case of Plotinus) such argument
consistently proceeds on the supposition, not of the identity, but of the analogy of the two modes
of
1 thought and existence.

We
Hegel on the
Subjective

will

not presume to enter here
serious

upon any
Kantian

examination

of

the
of

oMfcmt
doubtless,

position.

The publication
"

the/ Critique of Pure Reason

constitutes,

an important epoch in the history of Philosophy, but it is doubtful whether Kant has succeeded in anything like the degree he supposed
1

Critique of Pure Reason
F.

(Immanuel Kant),
:

of the

Transcendental Doctrine of Elements

First Part Space and Time.

pp. 21-47.

Haywood

s tr. ed. of 1848.

102
in

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
determining
the
possibilities
"

of

speculative

science.

People in the Hegel said, long ago, present day have got over Kant and his philosophy everybody wants to get further." There are many
:

who

but Hegel himself got further at any rate the remark was a true one, based on a sound faith in the invincible aspiration of human
believe that
;

reason towards the Absolute.

To deny

to cognition

the characteristics of universality and necessity, or,
in other

words, to deny that the truth
is

is

essentially

knowable,

to

controvert a belief so instinctive
(as inheritors

and fundamental that we
of the

and trustees

wisdom

of antiquity)

may

well hesitate long

and consider deeply before, by acquiescence, we commit ourselves to the implied renunciation.
It

may

nevertheless

present,

be expedient that, for the metaphysical ability should be devoted
to the construction of original systems,

not so
as
to

much
the

examination of those of acknowledged

masters.

When
Eternal

Plotinus denies that the forms
existence

quately expressed in terms of time and he does not by any means intend to convey space, the impression that the attempt so to conceive or
express them is altogether barren and futile, or that the ideal as such is essentially unknowable.

Truth not of Unknowable.

intelligential

may

be ade-

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
On

103

intelligence
of itself

the contrary, he asserts that in the sphere of every object is essentially the cognition
1 by absolute and universal Reason.

Inas

much,

therefore, as

we
all

dwell at once in time and
as

eternity,

and

that,

even

inhabitants

of

the

sensible universe,

we

participate in the

Reason

that
in

is

one and indivisible,
its

we cannot but
ideal

participate

the knowledge of

content.

But the

conceptions which by ordinary cognition of the objects of the sensible universe do not corre

we form

that spond exactly with those objects themselves, but of is, have not the form of true knowledge, more or less enlightened opinion. For these pri

mary concepts
of the

understanding

or judgments result from the action upon the plurality of sensible

impressions or of empirical perceptions, whereby
that plurality, being co-ordinated in terms of time
or space, receives, not absolute, but relative and the said unification were If unity.

proximate
selves

the objects perfectly effected, the nature of

them

would be perfectly known, and they would,
first,

from the

appear to us not merely as objects of the phenomenal universe, but sub specie aeternitatis.

In so far as the said unification

is

in fact

by

each one of us accomplished, the forms of time and the space, which were the means of co-integrating
1

Enn. VI, Lib.

vi,

sec. 6.

104

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
and we become
of
of

sensuous plurality and the ideal unity, are superseded
Science.

cognisant

essential

verity.

Thus the universe

absolute

science

and the

ideal or intelligible universe are ulti
it

mately identical, and
free

is

only as limitations to the
only, that
is,

development immediate and empirical
of illusion.

of reason,

in

their

origin,

that

objective

thoughts or experiences need partake of the nature

Of course to the consistent

idealist

(and such

was Plotinus) the apparently accidental circum stances which determine our bodily sensations, or
"

other

"

external

experiences,

are,

in

fact,

for

the most part, not accidental at
related to,

and

in

all, but are vitally a measure determined by, the

spontaneous growth of consciousness, or develop ment of the soul. This correspondence between
the nature of the individual
individual experience
is,

mind and the

facts of

however, on the material plane, very imperfect, and to a superficial observer but on the spiritual plane appears even more so
;

it is

absolute, so

of

indifference

so that it becomes a matter whether we regard the factors of as

much

conscious

existence

thoughts

or

sensations.

Hence an aphorism

of Plotinus to the effect that

while the sensations of terrestrial existence

may

be

regarded as obscure thoughts, the thoughts of

intel-

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY

105

ligential existence are equivalent to clear sensations.

In other words, time and space in the ideal universe exist not as limitations but as freely-adopted forms of the spontaneous activity of conscious essence
or spirit.
1

22.
Functions

The account given
in his
"Divine

of Paradise

by

Dante
.^ was
Plat0

Comedy,"

based as

P art on tne study of Aristotle, and other heathen philosophers,
in

on theological researches, may, with certain important reservations, be re
in

and

part

garded as the attempt of a magnificent intellect to give concrete form to this very conception of

an
is

intelligible or spiritual

and

ideal universe.

It

interesting therefore to note that the conclusions

just arrived at, as to the role of time

and space

as

forms of
the
of

intelligible

existence,

poem
far

in question.

confirmed by Thus, when the attention
are

Dante

in Paradise

is

directed

by

St.
sits

Bernard to
enthroned

where,

above them,
tier

Beatrice

on the third
spirits

from the highest of those radiant who conform the beauty of the heavenly

rose, the poet first narrates
"

how

And saw

A

Answering not, mine eyes I raised her, where aloof she sat, her brow wreath reflecting of eternal beams."
1

Enn. VI, Lib.

vii,

sec.

7.

106

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
then, as
if

And
"

in

astonishment, continues

Not from the centre of the sea so far Unto the region of the highest thunder, As was my ken from hers and yet the form Came through that medium down, unmixed and
;

pure."

In other words, the perception and the creation
of
for Dante s ascent beauty in Paradise are one from height to height of glory has been the logical
;

manifestation

of

his

own growth
visible

in

grace,
of

the

normal expression, and and spiritual change.

aspect,

inward

This harmony or, at least, analogy between the teaching of Plotinus on the one hand and the
Time
in

iniagery

of

Dante on the other holds

Eternity.

g OQ(j ^.j^

n ,g lir( j
"

to the ideal function

not of space only, but also of time.
in the tenth

For example,
Beatrice
is

canto of the

Paradise,"

referred to as

She who passeth on So suddenly from good to better, time Counts not the act."
"

correspondence of poet and Ploti philosopher on this subject do not end here. universe no one nus asserts that in the intelligible

But the points

of

substance presents, by reason of impenetrability,
1

Dante
et seq.

s

Divine Comedy (Gary).

Paradise, Canto xxxi,

64,

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
an obstacle to the movements of another,

107

any
are

more than

different notions in a single
1

mind

mutually exclusive.

So when Dante
its

is

approach

ing the lowest or lunar paradise,
is

substantiality

first

of all clearly indicated,

or rather insisted

upon
"

Meseemed

as

if

a cloud had covered

iis,

Translucent, solid, firm, and polished bright, Like adamant which the sun s beam had smit."

But, nevertheless, and this in despite of the fact
that

Dante was

"

still

of

corporeal

frame,"

not,

like his

conductor, an emancipated intelligence
Within itself the ever-during pearl Received us, as the wave a ray of * Receives, and rests unbroken."

light

What

is

this

but a sublime illustration of the ideal
space as implied by the doctrine of

function Plotinus
?

of

The same

principle affords a guide to the inter

pretation of a

statement of Plotinus to the effect
is

that every point of the intelligible universe
the

also

actual

centre

of that universe.

"

There exist

in the intelligible world a multitude of beings which

occupy respectively the

first,

second or third rank of

dignity, but as all are, so to speak,
1

suspended alike

Enn. VI, Lib.

v, sec.

10.
ii,

2

Dante

s

Divine Comedy (Gary), Canto

31, et seq.

io8

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
the

from

one

omnipresent point

of

Divinity,

and

there find themselves united without barrier or interval,
it

follows

that

those beings

which occupy the

first

or second

rank are equally present among those which
third rank.
"

occupy the

1

Now, according
less

to

the

system
located
planets
stars,

of

Dante, there are no
or

than ten heavens,

in,
;

rather

symbolised

by

the
(i)

seven

the eighth sphere comprising the

the fixed

(2)

primum
in the

mobile,

and

(3)

the

empy

rean.

But when
arise

heart of Dante doubts perforce
in

with respect to the justice of the decree
spirits are

accordance with which certain
at
first

(as he

crudely and falsely supposes)

absolutely
is

confined to the lowest or lunar paradise, he

in

part

reassured

by the expressions

of

bliss

and

tranquil

contentment

made

by

the

individuals

in question,
"

and exclaims
I

Then saw

clearly

how

each spot in heaven
like gracious
r

Is Paradise,

though with
virtue

dew
all."

The supreme

show

not over

*

And subsequently
givings
assures

his

remaining doubts and mis

are

dispelled

by

Beatrice

herself,

who

him that
1

2

Enn. VI, Lib. v, sec. 4. Paradise, Canto iii, 88, et

seq.

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
"

109

Of seraphim he who is most ensky d, Moses and Samuel, and either John, Choose which thou wilt, nor even Mary s self, Have not in any other heav n their seats, Than have those spirits which so late thou saw Nor more or fewer years exist." l

st,

But, she explains
"

Here were they shown
This for
their sphere,

thee, not that fate assigns

but for a sign to thee

Of that

celestial furthest

from the

*

height."

Certain features in Dante
in these

s

description of Paradise

and other passages of his work are obviously inspired by theological and doctrinal rather than

by philosophical
the poet
s

considerations,

and

in

applying

ideas to the elucidation of the Plotinian
all

conception of an intelligible order must of course be rejected.
Universal
Differentiation.

such features

2^

order

Objectively regarded the intelligible may then be defined as universal
differentiation,

spatml

characterised

in

every phase by absolute formal perfection and ideal
unity.
It is

coincident with, and in fact constitutes
its

the entire field of Truth, and contains within

bosom

a sort of figure or scheme
or

whereby
are

its

poten

tialities

constituent

ideas

indicated

and
is

circumscribed.
1

Subjectively
iv,

regarded,
Ibid.,

that
iv,

as

Ibid.,

Canto

28.

Canto

37.

no

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
it is

the Divine or Universal Intelligence,
Involution

an eternal

process of combined spiritual evolution

and
Evolution.

and

involution, characterised throughout by absolute wisdom and prescience,

which traverses completely the said field of verity, exhibiting thus a schematism of time, analogous to, and in fact identical with the spatial schematism
of form. 1

With
Intelligible

respect to the beings which inhabit
it

Units as

tin

1

intelligible sphere,

may

be stated

Types.

at

once

that
(as

all

creatures

whatsoever,

even those which we

tomed

to

contemn

as

we know them) are accus vile and worthless, exist
exists in

there also.
as the
less

For nothing
of

any degree save
These
ideas

more

or less perfect manifestation of a flaw

conception

divine

wisdom.

or individual forms (iiSa

aro^a) are the types or

units (monads) which, conceived in intelligible accordance with the principle of universal number

harmony), are the actual denizens of the intel ligible universe, and as such are in every case
(or

participators to the full degree required

by

their

respective

natures

in

the

divine

perfection

to

which they contribute. 2
1

Enn. VI, Lib. Enn. VI, Lib.

vii, vii,

sees. sees.

13-14.
8-9.

a

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
In the
The
Idealism
of Shelley
"

in
of Shelley

Prometheus Unbound

"

there

occurs

an

exquisitely

imagined

and

passage in
describes

which the
to

Spirit of the

Earth

her

mother

a

wondrous

change which, ushered in by loud and long yet sweet and mysterious music, breaking the stillness of a summer night, has transformed to a state of
ideal perfection her planet

and

all its

inhabitants.

While the music sounds, the Earth Spirit, in likeness of a moonbeam, lies hidden within a fountain in
the public square of a city
;

for the citizens

had

gathered in

the streets, and in

awe and wonder

stood gazing up to heaven.

Thus concealed, the

Earth
"

Spirit watches while

Those ugly human shapes and visages Of which I spoke as having wrought me pain, Past floating in the air, and fading still Into the winds that scattered them and those From whom they past seemed mild and lovely forms After some foul disguise had fallen, and all Were somewhat changed, and after brief surprise
;

And greetings Went to their

of delighted wonder, all
:

and when the dawn sleep again Came, wouldst thou think that toads, and snakes, and Could e er be beautiful ? Yet so they were, And that with little change of shape or hue
:

efts,

All things had put their evil nature

1
off."

Here, in a work penned some sixteen centuries
1

Op.

cit.

ii2
later,

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
we

find again in fairer, because less abstract, form, but in undying youth and activity, the pure idealism of Plotinus.

Wh&t
Universality implies the Individual.
.

then

* ma
>

be asked

-

S6ein

that every individual intelligence exhibits

perfection, constitutes rank in the intelligible sphere ? The answer supplied by Plotinus to this important question is direct and In the intelligible world, he simple. asserts, the

divine

actuality of that which occupies the
universal,

first

rank

is

and

its

potentiality simple or individual,
of

while

the

actuality
is

that

which occupies the

lowest

rank

individual,

and
the

its

potentiality
or

universal. 1

In

other

words,

kind

genus,

and retaining its own specifiindividuality impiiesthe cations and prerogatives as universal,
P ossessin g
Universal.

implies also individuality

and the

exist

ence of individuals, and might be said to generate them by a process of negative self-relation or
involution, but that these latter, conversely, retain

ing in like

manner

their

own particular characteristics
said, collec

as individuals, imply,
tively

and may even be
to

and

severally,

generate

the

universal.

An important

consequence which flows directly from this doctrine is that on the intelligible plane the indi1

Enn. VI, Lib.

vii, sec.

13.

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY

113

1 viduals of a given kind, qua individuals, are equal. But the above-mentioned antithesis The between universality on the one hand Absolute
,

rra

S

ndS

Bo th.

and individuality on the other

is

manifest
or

only when we contemplate essence
spirit in its subjective

aspect as an eternal creative

purposive Act. Objectively, as the intelligible universe spirit appears (noumenon), Alpolute Idea, or Ideal, or, in other words, as the
eternally
realised

process or conscious

and

said creative

consummation or end of the and purposive Act. From this stand

point the apparently-opposed principles of indivi duality and universality are seen to be merged,
reconciled,

and

finally

superseded in the ultimate
source and principle, the
actualities,

reality of their

common
as

One.

Meanwhile,

distinguishable

both terms of the antithesis

may

be regarded as
(although
of

complete
each
is

and

self-subsistent

entities

in a sense, for all that, the

complement
is

the other), but the universal qua universal
superior to

infinitely

any particular individual. As a matter of fact we
art,

find that in

Universality ,.,. as the politics,

religion,

this

test-question

fatness!

distinguished from the parochial and ephemeral significance
this,

of

the

universal

as

1

Plotinus docs not assert

nor

am

I

now convinced

of its logical necessity.

T

i,j.

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
is

of their operations
in

precisely the criterion which

the long run determines the degree of honour
in

and reverence

which individuals are held.

Where

universal functions have been assigned to individuals

by the accident

of birth, or in other

ways without
office,

respect of their essential fitness for the
find that the actual personality soon

we

comes

to be

regarded as a
for
of

mere eidolon or symbol

of the reality
"

which

it
"

stands.

In that section of his

Philosophy

History
of

which deals with the Lamaistic develop
to similar effect-

ment

Buddhism, Hegel writes
of a

The idea

man

being worshipped as

God

espe

cially a living
Universality

man

paradoxical and

something but the followrevolting,
it

has in

ing considerations must be examined before

we pronounce judgment respecting
ception
of Spirit

it.

The con

being regarded as This condition inherently, intrinsically universal. must be particularly observed, and it must be
involves
its

discovered

how

in the

systems adopted by various
is

peoples this universality

kept in

view.

It

is

not the individuality of the
but that which is universal in

subject that is revered,

him

;

and which, among
generally,
all

the
is

Thibetans,

Hindoos, and
the
essence

Asiatics

regarded

as

pervading
is

things.

This substantial Unity of

spirit

realised in the

Lama, who

is

nothing but the form in which Spirit

manifests

itself

;

and who does not hold

this Spiritual
is

Essence as his peculiar property, but
as partaking in
others,
it

regarded
it

only in order to exhibit

to
of

that

they

may

attain

a

conception

Spirituality,

and be

led to piety

and blessedness.
his

The Lama

s

personality

as

such

particular
to
x

individualityis

therefore
it

subordinate
embodies."

that

substantial essence which
2
Intelligence

+ Returning now
this

to

the

point

at

and the One.

w hich
of

digression

was made,
outline
is

we
the

resume the task
thought-scheme
to

of reconstructing in

important bear in mind that the fundamental cravings of the soul can never be satisfied by the contempla
is

Plotinus.

It

all

tion of, or even (what

in fact the

same

thing)
intel
is

identification with, intellectual
ligible

beauty (the

order)

merely as such.

Intellectuality

only aspired to in virtue of our possession of reason,

whereas the need of the Good
universal.

is

instinctive

and

The contemplation
is

of ideal formal per

fection, so long as this

mistakenly regarded as

an

end-in-itself,

as

the ultimate goal of spiritual
effect

ascension,

has

an exciting and disturbing
of

on
1

the

mind

the

beholder. 2

The
W.

universal
F. Hegel.

Tr.
2

Lectures on the Phil, of Hist. By G. Sibree, ed. of 1890, pp. 178-9. by

Enn. V, Lib.

v, sec.

12.

n6

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
is

intelligence
their

actuality

and

life,

but the Good as
superior

common
to
is

principle
It
is

is

infinitely

both.

the

The Good

cause of causality
infinite
;

Superior to
Intelligence.

and freedom, the absolute, the
.

in

itself

unknowable, not
is

as

we say
in a pre
all

that abstract matter
cisely

unknowable, but
because
it

opposite

sense,

transcends

conceivable attributes of positive existence.
less itself, it is

Form
formal

the principle and source of
latter
is

all

perfection

;

which

accordingly desirable

solely on this account, and, if otherwise regarded than as a necessarily imperfect reflex of an ineffable perfection, awakens no transport in the soul, but

becomes comparable (and

is

then

compared by

Plotinus) to a formally-beautiful face, lacking that

inward and higher grace of expression which alone contents us. For every intelligible being, although
it is

by

its

truly desirable

own right that which it is, only becomes when the light of the Good illuminates
it.

and, so to speak, transfuses and colours other words, the

In

mind can only be

satisfied

by that

which simultaneously and in a higher degree appeals to and satisfies the heart also. Then the soul,

which before experienced no rapture, renouncing
Ecstas

^s

at titude

of

coldly-admiring

impar.

tiality,

awakens invigorated, and expand

ing

its

wings under the sweet influence of Love,

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
soars

117

by the aid

of reminiscence to a higher principle
its

than the object of

immediate contemplation. 1
with the Good, since
it

And

this ecstatic reunion

leaves

the
is

soul

permanently beautified and en
life

lightened,

the true object of art and religion,
itself
is

and, indeed, since

likewise in essence
existence.
is

a

contemplative
Virtue

act,

of

all

We

say

advisedly that the soul

beautified

by

Suc j1 ecs t a ti c elevation, because being it self of the intelligible or formal nature, its particular

Form.

good
form

(as

distinguished from that
in itself)
is

which alone
nature
of

is

absolutely good

of

the

a

the basis or vehicle of beauty.
of a
is,

The primary
constitutes

good
that

human
to

soul

is,

in fact, virtue, conformity,

the
;

moral

idea

which

good citizenship and this in itself confers a certain beauty and dignity upon the life of its exponent.

But Plotinus points out that
intelligence
Liberty the Law of
is
is

just as the

form of

higher than that of the
its reflex
is

soul which

or image, so the

form
of

of liberty

higher than the form
is

convention, and the
Liberty versus

life

which

freely

devoted

to the conscious pursuit of the absolute
ideal takes precedence of the life
.

which

Convention.

aims merely at the acquisition and display of ordinary virtue. 2 To this distinction no excep1

Enn. VI, Lib.

vii, sees.

20-22.

*

Ibid., sees. 27-28, 36.

n8
tion

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS

need be taken on prudential grounds, provided always that it be carefully borne in mind that of
the two standards the higher must prove not less but more exacting than the lower.
is

itself

This

not the same thing, however, as demanding that

Genius and
[orals,

upon questions
invariably

of

conduct

they

shall

coincide,

they will so coincide
imagined.
genius,

much
it

although doubtless oftener than is commonly
in

Immorality
rather
;

is,

short,

no

proof

of

much

affords a presumption to the
it

contrary effect

but, on the other hand,
is,

is

un and

doubtedly the case that genius
of its

within the bounds
itself,

own sphere and

range, a law unto

cannot be brought to book by the current maxims For genius is fundamentally of ethical convention.
a manifestation of love through
limitation
intellect,

and what

shall we venture to impose upon the freedom of so august a confederacy ?
Grades of

The degrees
nised

of spiritual ascension recog

by Plotinus may be indicated by

the following somewhat arbitrary, but not
ingless distinctions
:

mean
and
;

(i)

Purification, or the regu

lation

and subdual
;

of

gross

carnal

desires

appetites

(2)

Virtues which adorn the soul
vice,

no

mere passive abstention from

but an active

conformity with the requirements of good citizen ship (3) Conversion towards, and contemplation
;

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
of

119
in

abstract

Intelligence

;

(4)

edification

the

of rational free intelligible order issuing in a life

dom
life

;

(5)

ecstasy, the

of absolute faith
"

the Banquet of the Gods and pure enthusiasm, inspired
;

by draughts of the true the blushful Hippocrene," 1 Of and mystical permeation of the Highest.
Mystic Reunion.

this

last

degree of
the

elevation
of
call

identifi-

ca ti on

with

principle

infinite

and transcendent beauty which we

God
it

Plotinus asserts that the soul, in so far as

tastes

its pos thereof, cannot be mistaken in asserting

session

and enjoyment

of the

supreme good.

In
it

so far as the soul enjoys the presence of

God

is

Him. Rank, wealth, power, indistinguishable from understand and science, beauty, as we ordinarily
value
these
things,

appear contemptible to
to

the

soul which has attained to this ineffable certitude-

Fear

is

likewise

impossible

such an

initiate,

who has
of

in sober verity regained his original state

beatitude,

and,

as

the

possessor

of

intuitive

knowledge of all truth, is 2 the need of thought itself.
The Cause
of Beauty.

in a sense superior to

2S
sion
f

The

principle of the soul s ascen-

the sphere of intelligence to the Good is thus explained ecstatic reunion with

rom

1

Enn. VI, Lib.
Ibid., sec. 35.

vii,

sec.

36.

*

120

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
He
says that whenever a beautiful
is

by Plotinus.
object

presented to the consciousness

we

strive

always, while reducing that object to a form (appre hending it, that is, as an idea) to discover beyond

and identify ourselves with the formative
This principle, which
form, and hence to
is

principle.

superior to all determinate
ideas (being itself the one
is

all

absolute and supernal ideal)

essential or trans
shall

cendent beauty, the first Divine Hypostasis we venture to name it universal Love ? l

Every
inferior,

intelligence

has,

then,

two

powers,

an

which

thinks,

own
above

intelligible

comprehending thus its content, and a superior, which
is

by a sort of intuition apprehends that which
it,

and, in so far as it is pure intelligence such superior to reason), is transported (and with love, and thereby identified with its object.
as

This

spiritual

contact

with

the

Good has been

already characterised as the ultimate goal of aspira tion the beatific vision of the Saint, the summum

bonum
U
th e

of the philosopher. 2
Strictly speaking, the

Good cannot be

One

dinctly thought or perceived, only felt in thc ecstatic reunion described above, where

an
the
1

ide^i

that conforms to and expresses
of
33.

Good

is

the object
vii, sec.

direct
*

contemplation.
Ibid., sec. 35.

Enn. VI, Lib.

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
Hence Plotinus
that
forbids

121

us to affirm categorically

God

is

good, or even that
is

He

exists,

holding

that the

One

superior to

all

positive attributes,

superior even to our notion of existence,
to be described
superior,
therefore, to
all

and only
master

by negations.
"

So, too, his

Plato asserts that
or

God cannot be named
"

known.

We

Conceiv
Attri- attribute butes.

refuse,"

says Plotinus,
to

to

able

being

to the

One, in order

avoid

establishing a
derivative
1

relation between

Him and
you have
assert

beings."

Consequently,
of

"when

had
that

an intuition

the
;

Supreme, do not
otherwise

He

is

this
to

or
the

that

you

virtually
beings."

reduce

Him

category of determinate

God we are to seek all that is posterior to Him, but we are not to attempt by scientific analysis to penetrate the depth of His own being 2 still less to For God is pass beyond it.
In
The

the outside

(TO

efa>),

the

absolute and

M
or

Things.

o?aT comprehensive measure of all things. He is also the within, the infinite depth
profoundly, the
infinite

occult

wellspring

of reality,

the

Ideal.

That which approaches
it

Him

the

nearest, and, as
is

were,

circularly impinges
Intelligence,

upon Him,

universal
this

Reason or
aspiration

which in virtue of

towards, and

1

Enn. VI, Lib.

viii,

sec.

8.

*

Ibid., sec. 9.

122

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
is

attainment of the Good,

itself

one and perfect.
is

Hence, the universal Reason (Logos)
1

symbolically

Be it noted that the designated a ccntriform circle. form of the universal Being, although absolutely
perfect

the will

and therefore absolutely accordant with of the One, is such by its own act and not

from merely in passive obedience to an impulse without and above. Otherwise it were impossible
to say, as Plotinus does say, that
of Liberty.

God

is

the Author

And, nevertheless, God, as superior to Reason, essence or Spirit, has engendered it, and constitutes its principle and raison d etre.
26. \Ylicn finally

pite of all
trary,

pass on, as des that has been said to the con

we

inevitably do pass to the contemplation of the One as existing in and for Itself, we leave

we

Reason behind us and rise upon the wings of ecstasy the most exalted into a rarer and more exalted

What we say of the Good region of consciousness. is not to be regarded as an attempt to
Inadequacy
of Science,

define

its

nature, for the ineffable

can

not be formally and impassively scrutinised, nor
the absolutely indivisible analysed and explained. For whereas mere science, as the act of discursive
reason, involves multiplicity,
1

2

its

inherent tendency
sec.

1

Enn. VI, Lib. Enn. VI, Lib.

viii,

18.

ix, sec. 4.

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
is
is

123

to separate us from God, but the act of Divinity

an eternal

super-intellection,

as
its

we have

of this

and such knowledge transcendent Activity is due to
which becomes
from
Itself.

actual presence in contact with and illumination
for the

of the soul of the beholder,

time

being

indistinguishable

As we
whose

may

imagine the master of a glorious palace,

own beauty

surpasses that of the formally perfect
lifeless

but comparatively
intelligible essence.

statues

which adorn

it,

so the beauty of the

Good

surpasses that of mere
at first

Yet the One does not

reveal

Itself

visibly

and separately,

but, as

has

just been explained, penetrates and becomes identi fied with the soul of the worshipper. 1 We discuss

the Divine Nature, says Plotinus, not in the hope
of defining or

comprehending

it

(for

such hope were
innate desire
"

baseless

and

irrational)

but in order to awaken and
its

stimulate the soul, and thus rekindle

of this Divine, this ultimate experience.
ing,"
"to

I

am try

said Plotinus on his deathbed to Porphyrius,

bring back the Divine that is in me to the Divine that is in the All." That, indeed, behoves

us

;

and, further, the need of this reunion
is

is

not

confined to ourselves but
versal.

instinctive

and uni

For
"

As flame

ascends,

As vapours to the earth
1

in showers return,
vii, sec. 35.

Enn. VI. Lib.

124

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
As the
Swells,

pois d ocean toward th

attracting

moon

and the ever
s

list

ning planets,
life

charm d

By
So

the sun
all

call,

their

onward pace

incline,

aspire to God, Exhaustless fount of intellectual day,

things which have
x

Centre of

souls."

Every

living soul yearns after the

Good

as a virgin

for her destined spouse, but

may and

often

does

forget this heavenly love

and plunge

for awhile into

adulterous excesses.
of existence for all
is

Nevertheless, the sole object

contact with and direct con
in virtue of

templation of the
the centre of our

Good,

which contact
coincident

own being may become

with that of the universe, and the purport of our otherwise trivial and meaningless existence, in sober
verity, Divine.

Exalted thus, and

in virtue of this
clear, subtle

spiritual contact, the soul

becomes

and

luminous,

full
its

of the light of

intellect,

conscious,

moreover, of

own

perfection,

and may be likened
yet, supposing its

to a resplendent flame. 2

Even

previous detachment from sensuous allurements to have been incomplete, it may fall again into com
parative
obscurity,

but

by
its

every
it

such
is

ecstatic

ascension and beatific reunion
beautified

permanently

and

exalted,

and

ultimate return and

1

1

Akenside, Pleasures of Imagination, bk. Enn. VI, Lib. ix, sec. 9.

ii,

264.

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
reabsorption are inevitable
lias
;

125
soul

for

when the
back to

once beheld God, a virtue or image remains
it,

with

which serves to guide
its

it

Him,

presence by the light which we call intelligence and the love which creates wis

manifesting

dom.
Potential

27.
,,
.

the Doctrine tne ^irst

Import

of

With _
,

reference to this
.
.

doctrine of

Divine Hypostasis

TT

many
to
of

ques
the

suggest student which find in the Enneads

tions

will

themselves

Plotinus

no

very
it

clear

or

satisfactory
is

answer.

For

in

stance,

may

be asked,

the

Good a personal

or an impersonal Being,

is

this principle the philo

Person in the Triune God of Theology, or, peradventure, of the Third ? It must be admitted that, at first sight,
sophical

equivalent

of

the First

is something extremely unsatisfying in the account given of the One by Plotinus but allowance must be made for the enormous of the
;

there

difficulty

than that of describing the indescribable and of defining that which is beyond all comprehen
task,
less

no

sion.

If,

however, in completing this brief study

of the lifework of a great thinker,
faithful to his

we would be

own

spirit of free

and

fearless inquiry,

we must
this

not shrink from the endeavour to solve

not merely as

supreme problem of the nature of the One, it was interpreted by Plotinus him-

ia6
self,

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
but also in respect of
In the
in
first its

true potential import.
it is

The One as
Abstraction.

place

to be noted that,

common

with the secon d and third
the

Divine
is

Hypostases

(literally substances)

One
mere
or

arrived at by a process of abstraction, and accord
first

ingly presents itself at

to the
all

mind

as a

formless

residuum,
significance.

void

of

real

content,

genuine
Intelligence

But

this

was equally the
.

case with the Divine Intelligence, which,
as an

although
n
first place,

similarly

apprehended

in

the

by

the abstraction of

all

lower

forms of consciousness, as a mere informing light
or
essence,
all

ultimately

proved

itself

capable

of

embracing
existence.

that pertains to the notion of positive
case of the First Divine Hypostasis,
stated, cannot be

The

to which, as lias been

ascribed

a genuine existence,
Psychologl
5 5

is

no doubt
of
lias

different in

many
in

respects from that
principles
;

the
at

two
least

inferior
this

of the

but

it

Soul, the

common
to
exist)

with them both, that the inferit

Intelhgence,

and the One. ence of its existence (in so far as

can

be

said

rests

like

theirs in

part

on a
out

psychological
in

basis.

For,

as

was

pointed

the beginning of this essay, each of the three
of

grades

spirituality

corresponding
first

respectively

to the third, second
is

and

Divine Hypostasis,
actuality repre-

in

some degree

of

immanence or

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
sentect in every individual

127

human
fact,

or other micro

cosm.

Plotinus

asserts,

in

that

sensations

aspire to
in

become thoughts, and thoughts to merge wisdom or intelligence, and similarly, from the

psychological standpoint
_,

we may say that the
is

First

Q

Divine Hypostasis
or

simply the
carried

human
to
its

Potence of
the Soul.

other

consciousness

supreme potentiality and there merged
and, so far as reason
is

concerned, lost to view.

Can we
without

not, at

all

events, give a

name

to this high

est, ineffable

power
it

of consciousness, a
in

name which,
detail

controverting

one

single

the

account given of
in a

by

Plotinus, but rather coinciding
its

remarkable way with every indication of

mysterious nature,
conception once for

may
all

yet serve to redeem the

from the charge
is

of barren

and empty formalism ? The First Divine Hypostasis
it is

superior, indeed

It

to^thought and existence. does not think, or even will, but has merely a
infinitely superior,
itself.

simple intuition of

It

is

the

transcendent
all

principle of all beauty,

the ultimate source of

emancipation, yet
Matter

in itself neither free It is the

nor subject

to necess ity-

measureless mea-

and the One. sure o f a u things, the rule of
intelligence,

wisdom

or

(hence)

and as the absolutely formless and impersonal, yet creative and self-deter-

[28

THE WISDOM OF PLOTIXUS
is

mined Good

the complement of the

ide<i

of matter
evil.

the absolutely chaotic, inert

and indeterminate

The two
Infinites,

Matter and the Good
trasted
as

may

also be con-

the

two

infinites,

the

first,

indefinite

nonentity, the second infinite ideality
is,

and
the

this antithesis

in

fact,

complete, for whereas

Good resembles matter

in that neither form, will

nor intelligence
is

may be posited of either, the first immeasurably above, the second as absolutely
of

beneath the possibility
ence.
of
is
1

such determinate exist

The One

is

likened by Plotinus to the root

an immense

tree,

whose trunk
which
all

is

Reason.

It

that principle to

things, created and

uncreated, aspire, and in virtue of their more or
less

perfect possession

of

which they
It

aspire,
is

and

in

virtue of which they are one.
Infinite

therefore

^ 1C

sourco

an d g oa
of

l

f

a^

things,

the

Love.

principle

evolution

and

involution,
force,

the
the

expulsive
"
"

energy

and

the

attractive

dialectic

of Hegelian philosophy, the divine

grace of Christian theology, the circle

which

closes

with

itself.

In one word,
It in

it

is

Love.

The

nowise affects the validity of the
.
.

Doctrine above interpretation to assert that Plotiof Unity r not peculiar n us himself was not the originator oi
to Plotinus.

this doctrine Q f unit y 4
s

but that he approand the
"false"

1

Cf.

Hegel

antithesis of the

"true"

Infinites.

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
priated
are
it

129

from the system

of

Pythagoras.

Nor

we concerned

to prove (as

might well be im

possible) that Plotinus himself had any clear per ception of the real identity of his notion of the

Good with

love, abstract

and

universal.

We may
compari

recall the recollection of the reader to his

son of the beauty of mere intelligence, unenlight ened by the Good, to a formally perfect face, lackLove the
principle of

in &
js

Ascension

It grace of expression. certain, too, that he teaches that love

^e

mwar d

and
Descension.

is

the sole
is

principle

of

ascension,
in

and

there
asserts

also

a

passage,

which he

that souls

which have contemplated the

One may
The Soul

return to reveal to others the secret of

celestial rapture,

which seems to justify the conis,

cmsion tnat love
>

or at

least should

sL
.t the

1 But the ^ i be tne principle of descension. Good. soul in union with, and contemplation

ve

s

of the One,

able

a homogeneous entity, indistinguish from that which it beholds. The circle is
is

thus complete.
Love not a mere is
Affection.

P erna P s be objected that love an emotion, and that in the Neoplatonic
first

^ may

scheme the
prisoned soul
is

condition

of

the

im

the

return to God, of salvation in fact, renunciation of all natural appetites and
s
1

Enn. VI, Lib.

ix,

sec.

7.
I

130
desires.

THE WISDOM OF PLOTINUS
Such
an
objection,

however

plausible,

would be founded on a
aims

total misconception of the

doctrines of Plotinus and, indeed, of the nature
of
all

philosophy.

and The one supreme and

comprehensive science would upon this supposition be no science at all but a mere sentimental exercise
or indulgence.

Philosophy, as the ideal expression
is

of the love-of-wisdom,

not only based on emotion
emotional.

but

is

even

itself

in essence

Appetites

and

desires as the result of that law of the
spirit,

members
and only
"

which wars against the law of the
in so far as
TV\ A

they so contend, constitute
feel-

Material
as

for Plotinus, as for St. Paul, those
"

thereat

ings

of Feelings.

which at the bidding of Celestial nvo ked and revealed by Love, Wisdom>
i

are to be

"

crucified,"

or at the least controlled

by

the

converted
is

will

of

the

aspirant.

Their seat

moreover,

neither the

body

as such, nor the soul,

but that composite product of Nature and the irrational or vestigial soul of the individual, which
Plotinus calls the living body.

To
mere

the soul

itself

we can properly
Emotions
compatible with

attribute neither sensafeelings,

^
"

nor a
passions

other

but
is,

without

Freedom
belong to

passivity,"

that

emotions

compatible

with

freedom,

or,

in other words, the desire of that
is

which

good, or ultimately of the

Good

itself.

When

A METAPHYSICAL STUDY
the soul seems to will that which
is

131

evil it is (appear

ances notwithstanding), according to Plotinus, at for (as Meredith worst, the victim of ignorance
:
"

beautifully says)
upwards,"

the light of

and the aim

every soul burns of a rational entity cannot

run be otherwise than good. And the reason of this is that the love which impels the
in the long

individual soul and intellect
it

knows no

rest until

has completed its circuit and returned to the source whence it was derived. Regarded as an
it

impersonal abstract entity, we may say, indeed, that has never really left that source, but regarded

as a mere potentiality of

any particular human
is,

consciousness,
inevitable.

its

ultimate return

at all events,

are now, therefore, in a position more fully to appreciate the latent significance of the above-

We

quoted words
ing Divine that
to

of the

dying philosopher:
is

"/

am
to

try the

bring back the Divine that
is in the
All."

in

me

Printed

in

Great Britain ly Butler

&

Tanner. From* and

Londa-.

IINDING SECT.

MAY 2 8

1975

PLEASE

DO NOT REMOVE
FROM
THIS

CARDS OR

SLIPS

POCKET

UNIVERSITY

OF TORONTO

LIBRARY

693

Whitby, Charles Joseph The wisdom of Plotinus

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