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BIBLIOGRAPHY AND EXPLANATORY MATTER - Plotinus, The Ethical Treatises, being the Treatises of the First Ennead [253 AD]
The Ethical Treatises, being the Treatises of the First Ennead, with Porphry’s Life of Plotinus, and the Preller-Ritter Extracts forming a Conspectus of the Plotinian System, translated from Greek by Stephen Mackenna (Boston: Charles T. Branford, 1918).
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BIBLIOGRAPHY AND EXPLANATORY MATTER
The text on which this translation has been made is that of Richard Volkmann (Teubner, Leipzig, 1883): occasionally a reading has been adopted from the text variations or spacious commentary given in the three-volume edition of Frederick Creuzer, Oxford, 1835: very rarely the translator has been driven to venture an emendation of his own.
The present translation has been scrupulously compared, clause by clause, over and over again, with those undermentioned:—
The Latin of Ficino (in Creuzer’s edition).
The French of M. N. Bouillet (three vols., Paris, 1875, etc.).
A complete version; often inaccurate, often only vaguely conveying the meaning; furnished with the most copious and fascinating notes and commentary. To the elucidation of Plotinus’ general themes Bouillet brings illustrations from the entire range of religious and mystical thought, beginning with the earliest thinkers, minutely comparing Plato, borrowing from the Fathers of the Church, from works of the Eastern mysticism, from the Rabbalah, from the mediæval theologians, from Malebranche, Spinoza, Leibnitz, Bossuet, Thomassin, etc. He also uses Macrobius very effectively. As Bouillet’s monumental work is long out of print and very rare, it would be a service to Plotinian studies to translate his notes and commentary entire, the Greek and Latin equally with the French. If this were done, with of course a summary of the passages of Plotinus under illustration, the book would have a great value of its own as a conspectus of the mystic thought that has entered into Christianity from outside or been evolved by Christianity from its own depths.
The German of Hermann Friedrich Mueller (2 vols., Berlin: Weidmann, 1878-80).
This valuable translation is described by its author as “literal, but scarcely palatable unless taken in conjunction with the Greek text”: both statements are true: in parts the version is, even, meaningless without a close study of the original.
The German of Otto Kiefer (2 vols., Diederichs: Jena and Leipzig, 1905).
This is a book of selections, very extensive, purporting, indeed, to omit only what is judged to be out of date, futile or incomprehensible in the original: it is substantially a Mueller made very much more readable with often improvement in sense and sometimes, it is to be feared, a deterioration.
[The translator upon reading some of the treatises translated into English by Thomas Taylor decided, for reasons mainly literary, that the work of this devoted pioneer would not be helpful in the present undertaking: it has, therefore, not been used in any part of this work except possibly by indirect suggestion from the quotations made occasionally in the commentaries of Bouillet and Creuzer.]
METHOD OF THE PRESENT TRANSLATION
Inevitably the present translator has sometimes differed from all his predecessors, as they have sometimes differed each from all the others: he hopes it will not be thought an insolence in him to remark that his rendering of any given passage is not to be tested finally by the authority of any of these scholars, still less by any preconceived idea of Plotinus’ meaning or by any hasty memory of controversy and decisions as to the peculiar uses of words in Plato or Aristotle. The text of the Enneads may be taken to be very fairly well-established, but it would be absurd to suppose that as yet Plotinus, so little cautious or consistent in verbal expression, yields his precise meaning, or full content, as Plato, for example, may be supposed now to do after the scholarly scrutiny of generations. It may, indeed, be said with a rough truth that Plotinus’ terms, shifting at best and depending upon context and again upon the context of the context, are never to be more carefully examined than when they seem to be most true to the Platonic or Aristotelian uses: the confusion is a constant pitfall: Plotinus was pouring a quite new wine into very old bottles. Plotinus is often to be understood rather by swift and broad rushes of the mind—the mind trained to his methods—than by laborious word-racking investigation: we must know him through and through before we can be quite sure of his minuter meanings anywhere: there must be many a scholar at work yet, many an order of mind, before we can hope to have a perfectly true translation of the Enneads in any language. The present worker must have made mistakes, some perhaps that to himself will one day appear inexcusable: his one consolation is that the thing he will that day welcome from other hands has almost certainly passed through his own, and been deliberately rejected. Where he appears most surely to have sinned against the light, it is most sure that he has passed through an agony of hesitation.
People seem always anxious to know whether a work of translation is what they call literal; the important question is rather whether it is faithful: the present work pretends to be faithful—and, if we must be precise, literary rather than literal. This is not to say that it is a paraphrase.
Probably every translator from the classic tongues sets out gaily in the firm purpose of achieving the impossible, of making a crib that shall also be a piece of sound and flowing idiomatic writing; and certainly many critics demand the miracle. Some years ago, on the publication of a preliminary specimen of this present venture, one very highly accomplished scholar wrote complaining with utter seriousness of an English past tense which had dared to translate a “frequentative aorist” of the Greek original; he had apparently never asked himself whether an English past may not be as frequentative as any Greek aorist: in any case, readers who desire their translations to serve as an unfailing treasury of illustrations to “X. on Greek Idioms” are not asked to like this version.
Again, various arbitrary principles, laid down by translators of a formally precise school, have been quite ignored here. For example, it has been decreed that “one word must translate one word” and this in a double application:—
1. That if, for example, the word Phusis is once translated Nature, Phusis must stand as Nature at every repetition, never Kind or Essence, or Being or any other word which happens, in a particular context, to be equally clear and precise or even imperative in English to the sense and connection of thought.
2. That Phusis, for example, may never be translated by such a double as “Nature or Hypostasis,” Doxa, for example, never by such a double as “Opinion or Seeming-Knowledge,” still less, as several times here, by “Ordinary Mentation,” with or without an alternative or an addition.
All such bans have been treated here as belonging to the childish pedantry of a game of skill, not to the serious task of conveying to the reader a grave body of foreign thought. Probably in every writer—certainly in Plotinus—such a word as Phusis, such a word as Theos, or again Theios, may carry in connotation not merely two but three or four or more notions, any one of which may at a given moment be the dominant, though not necessarily to the utter exclusion of the others. Plotinus has some score of words, technical terms, which he uses in very varying applications where no single fixed English word or even combination of words would always carry his meaning. The translator has in this whole matter adopted the principle of using such a variety of terms, single or double or upon occasion triple, as will exactly cover or carry the idea which appears in the original; he has arrogated to himself almost the entire freedom of a philosophic writer in English who uses his words with an absolute loyalty, of course, to his thought but with never a moment’s scruple as to the terms in which he happened to convey or indicate a given notion five pages back. In other words the present translator has not thought of his probable readers as glossary-bound pedants but as possessed of the living vision which can follow a stream of thought by the light of its own vivid movement.
Other theorists of translation desire that a version should represent the style of the original writer: this notion is tempting and may often be safely achieved but not, the present worker ventures to say, in the case of Plotinus, or perhaps in the case of any writer whose main preoccupation is less with artistic expression than with the enunciation of cardinal and very gravely important ideas. Longinus, as may be learned from Porphyry’s Life-sketch of Plotinus, so little grasped Plotinus’ manner of expression as to judge ruinously erroneous the most faithful transcripts that could be: a version which should reproduce such a style as disconcerted and misled the most widely read contemporary critic of Greek letters, would not be a translation in any useful sense of the word, or at least would not be English or would not be readable.
The present translation, therefore, has been executed on the basic ideal of carrying Plotinus’ thought—its strength and its weakness alike—to the mind of the reader of English: the first aim has been the utmost attainable clearness in the faithful, full and unalloyed expression of the meaning; the second aim, set a long way after the first, has been the reproduction of the splendid soaring passages with all their warmth and light. Nothing whatever has been, consciously, added or omitted with such absurd purpose as that of heightening either the force of the thought or the beauty of the expression—except in so far as force and beauty demand a clarity which sometimes must be, courageously, imposed upon the most negligent, probably, of the great authors of the world.
The translator has necessarily been indebted for guidance, direct and indirect, to many works of metaphysic, theology and even history—but there are some which must be particularly named, books to which he has been under the deepest, constant obligations in the immediate grappling with the text, books also to which the novice in Plotinian studies may be usefully directed.
The Neo-Platonists: a study in the history of Hellenism: by Thomas Whittaker (Cambridge University Press: 1901): as a formal scientific exposition of the entire history of the school and a chart of the Plotinian system (some sixty pages summing the Enneads) this book is of the first value.
Much useful suggestion is contained in “The Wisdom of Plotinus: a Metaphysical Study” by Charles J. Whitby, London (William Rider and Son: 1909).
There is nothing more helpful, in its own wide sphere, towards the understanding and appreciation of Plotinus than the late Principal Caird’s beautiful work “The Evolution of Theology in the Greek Philosophers: Gifford Lectures for 1901-2” (Glasgow: MacLehose: 1904): this book, written in the loftiest spirit, contains some exquisite fragments from the Enneads: the author presumably disdained the humble work of a mere translator, but had he given us a complete rendering the world would have been the richer by a classic of thought and a classic of language.
In “Neo-Platonism” by C. Bigg, D.D. (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge: 1895), we have a good general summary, rather popular in tone, of the system and of its antecedents and results.
Another work which would serve as an adequate explanation of practically the whole system is “The Problem of Evil in Plotinus”: B. A. G. Fuller: 1912: it includes translations of many cardinal passages and is written throughout in as lucid a style as has ever expounded a metaphysical system.
“The Philosophy of Plotinus,” by David Sylvan Guthrie (Philadelphia, Dunlop Printing Co., 1896): is a brief summary containing a helpful index to the most fundamentally significant passages of the Enneads.
The valuable works of Miss Underhill, dealing with the history and methods of the schools and masters of mysticism, are too well known to need more than the naming.
The translator owes acknowledgment to G. R. S. Meade, whose great labour on the Hermes’ documents gave him much valuable suggestion.
Edward Carpenter’s work “The Art of Creation” (George Allen: 1907) will be found very helpful as exhibiting, in modern terms and with the support of modern metaphysical and scientific investigation, a great deal that is either basic or implied in the Plotinian system.
French and German
No specialist student in Plotinus can pass over Jules Simon’s “Histoire de l’École d’Alexandrie”: it is very full, very minute; it is disfigured in places by a strange, a most unphilosophical scorn where Plotinus’ magnificent attempt to explain the Universe is found to involve the contradictions or lacunæ perhaps inevitable to all such efforts religious or philosophical: Simon’s figure-references to the Enneads are not seldom faulty.
Vacherot’s volume, of the same title as Simon’s, is another work of capital importance: it is described by H. Guyot as intelligent, systematic, the best existing in French and still to be read with profit even after Zeller’s exposition: M. Guyot, however, finds that Vacherot’s Hegelianism somewhat mars his judgments upon the Plotinian system.
“L’Infinité Divine depuis Philon jusqu’à Plotin”: Henri Guyot: (Paris: Alcan: 1906). This little book contains in less than one hundred of its two hundred and fifty pages some of the most original and subtlest analysis, synthesis and interpretation yet presented of Plotinus’ dominant ideas: it is very lucidly written, and even pleasantly: an English translation would add to the language another valuable document of Metaphysical Mysticism.
“Die Lehre vom Logos in der Griechischen Philosophie”: Dr. Max Heinze: Oldenburg, 1872. A most valuable work.
“Die Psychologie des Plotin”: Dr. Arthur Richter: (Halle: 1867).
In all the books mentioned will be found more or less extensive bibliographies, including works, mostly in German, which the present translator either has not been able to procure or has not found very useful.
. . . . . . . . . .
It would not be right to close this chapter of acknowledgment without some expression of the translator’s deep obligation to Mr. Ernest R. Debenham, whose interest in Plotinus and friendly offices in the publishing world have resulted in the production of this version of the first Ennead.
. . . . . . . . . .
The six Enneads—six sets of Nine treatises—do not constitute or include a formal step-by-step statement or demonstration of the Plotinian doctrine: the entire system is assumed in each of the separate treatises, which take the form of special developments or demonstrations of significant points, not chapters in one work of consecutive exposition.
Hence, failing a previous knowledge of the main doctrines, almost any of the treatises must appear incomprehensible or, worse, be radically misunderstood; the terminology, simple enough in itself, becomes dishearteningly mysterious or gravely misleading.
A serious misapprehension may be caused, to take one instance among several, by incautiously reading into terms used by Plotinus meanings or suggestions commonly conveyed by those words in the language of modern philosophy or religion; on the other hand, there is in places almost a certainty of missing these same religious or philosophical implications or connotations where to the initiate the phrase of Plotinus conveys them, intensely.
Thus, it is not easy, without knowledge and the training of habit, to quiver with any very real rapture over the notion of becoming “wholly identified with the Intellectual-Principle,”: when it is understood and at each moment deeply realised that “The Intellectual-Principle” is the highest accessible “Person” of the Godhead, is very God, is the Supreme Wisdom immanent within the human soul and yet ineffably superior to all the Universe beside, then perhaps we may feel the great call to the devotion that has such a reward.
We must, then, learn at the very beginning what are the main lines of the Plotinian explanation of the Heavens and the Earth and the Human-Being if we are to obtain from our author, our temporary Master, the depth of his philosophical meaning and the warmth of his religious fervour.
It is not possible to cram the Plotinian system unhurt into a confined space: to be brief is necessarily to be inaccurate: what follows is merely a rough chart intended to give the first essential orientation, to indicate the great highways in their main course and to name the commanding landmarks: it is the natural and necessary introduction to the Terminology, nothing more.
The Divine Names
The system of Plotinus is a system of necessary Emanation, Procession or Irradiation accompanied by necessary Aspiration or Reversion-to-Source: all the forms and phases of Existence flow from the Divinity and all strive to return Thither and to remain There.
This Divinity is a graded Triad.
Its three Hypostases—or in modern religious terminology, “Persons”—are, in the briefest description—
“Of all things the governance and the existence are in these Three.”
The First Hypostasis of the Supreme Divine Triad is variously named: often it is simply “The First.” Envisaged logically, or dialectically, it is The One. Morally seen, it is The Good: in various other uses or aspects it is The Simple, The Absolute, The Transcendence, The Infinite, The Unconditioned: it is sometimes The Father.
It is unknowable: its nature—or its Super-Nature, its Supra-Existence—is conveyed theoretically by the simple statement that it transcends all the knowable, practically most often by negation of all Quality: thus if we call it the Good, we do not intend any formal affirmation of a quality within itself; we mean only that it is the Goal or Term to which all aspires. When we affirm existence of it, we mean no more than that it does not fall within the realm of non-existents; it transcends even the quality of Being.
It is not the Creator: it is scarcely even to be rightly called the First-Cause: its lonely majesty rejects all such predication of action: in this realm of the unknowable the First-Cause is, strictly, a lower principle than The First, which is not to be spoken of in any terms of human thought.
We may utter no more of it—and then under infinite reserve, appealing always to a deep sense behind the words—than, that in an ineffable, Supra-Existence, it exists, that in an ineffable Super-Act, it acts, that it is everywhere, in the sense that without its Supra-Existence nothing could be, that it is nowhere in that it is loftily alien from all else. In so far as language and all the unconquerable force of human thought drive us to speak of it as a Cause, we must keep in mind that it is so only in that its Perfection implies an Act, a production, or, in a metaphor basic with Plotinus, a “generation” of something other than Itself: for Existence or Supra-Existence comports expressive Act. The most perfect form of expressive Act is Thought or Intellection: the Divine Existence, or Supra-Existence, produces, therefore, a Divine-Thought or Intellection.
This Divine-Thought is, of course, a Real-Being, the first “thing” of whom existence may, if only in some vaguer sense, be affirmed: it is an Intelligence, or rather is the Universal-Intelligence. As the act, offspring and image of The First, it is a sort of mediation to us of the Unknowable One. It is in the Greek named ho Noûs, which has often, perhaps not very happily, been translated Divine-Mind, sometimes Divine Intelligence or Divine-Intellection: in the present translation it is most often conveyed by the rather clumsy term, found in practice, expressive and convenient, “The Intellectual-Principle.”
In the English, it must be noted, as in the Greek, the same term is used for the parallel Principle and Act in man: in both realms, the divine and human, the Intellectual-Principle connotes the highest really knowable: often therefore to absorb the full mystical or religious suggestion of a passage the reader will find it expedient to re-translate, i.e. to substitute temporarily for the term “Intellectual-Principle,” the term Spirit, or despite the awkward clash, even the term “Supreme-Soul.”
With this Noûs, or Divine-Mind or Divine-Intellection, or Divine-Intellectual-Principle, begins the existence of Plurality or Complexity, or Multiplicity: the Divine Mind contains, or rather is, ta Noeta = the Intellectual-Universe or Intelligible-Universe, often known as The Intelligible or The Intelligibles.
The Intellectual or Intelligible-Universe is the Totality of the Divine-Thoughts, generally known, in the phrase familiar in Platonism, as The Ideas.
The Ideas, or Divine-Thoughts, are Real-Beings, Intelligences, Powers: they are the eternal Originals, Archetypes, Intellectual-Forms of all that exists in the lower spheres. In certain aspects this sphere of the Intelligibles would be best named The Spiritual Universe: Principal Caird agrees with Whittaker in finding it closely like Dante’s conception of the circle of angels and blessed spirits gathered in contemplation and service round the throne of God.
The Intellectual or Intelligible Universe contains, or even in some sense is, all particular minds or intelligences and these in their kinds are images, representations, phantasms, “shadows” of this Universal or Divine Mind. All the phases of existence—down even to Matter, the ultimate, the lowest faintest image of Real-Being—all are “ideally” present from eternity in this Realm of the divine Thoughts, this Totality of the Supreme Wisdom or “Mentation.”
The Supreme Intellectual-Principle cannot be unproductive: accompanying its Act of Thought there is what we may, coarsely, indicate as an Act of Act: the Divine-Thinking “engenders a power apt to the realisation of its Thought,” apt that is to “Creation”: This engendered power is the Third Hypostasis of the Divine Triad.
The Third Hypostasis of the Divine-Triad is, then, the All-Soul, or Universal Soul or Soul of the All: it is the eternal emanation and image of the Second Hypostasis, the Intellectual-Principle.
As the Divine-Intellectual-Principle has, to our view, two Acts—that of upward contemplation of The One and that of “generation” towards the lower—so the All-Soul has two Acts: it at once contemplates the Intellectual-Principle and “generates” in the bounty of its own perfection the lower possible. Thus we have often in the Enneads a verbal partition of the All-Soul; we hear of the Leading-Principle of the Soul, or the Celestial Soul, concentrated in contemplation of its superior, and the Lower Soul, called also the Nature-Looking and Generative Soul, whose operation it is to generate or fashion the lower, the material Universe upon the model of the Divine-Thoughts, the “Ideas” laid up within the Divine-Mind: this lower principle in the Soul is sometimes called the Logos of the Universe, or the “Reason-Principle” of the Universe. The All-Soul is the mobile cause of movement as well as of Form: more directly than the two superior or “earlier” Hypostases of the Divine-Triad it is the eternal cause of the existence, eternal existence, of the Kosmos, or “World,” or material, or sense-grasped Universe, which is the Soul’s Act and emanation, image and “shadow.” It is the Creator, therefore, and the Vital-Principle of all that is lower, or “later” than the Divine-Triad. In a sense that need not be here minutely elaborated the All-Soul includes, and is, All-the-Souls: for the first rough practical purposes of the average reader, it may be conveniently indicated in a stanza, by Richard Watson Dixon:—
The Divine-Triad as a Unity
The Three Hypostases of the Supreme-Being are, of course, quite frequently spoken of collectively as one transcendent Being or one Divine Realm: sometimes, even, where one of the Three is definitely named, the entire context shows that the reference is not to the Hypostasis actually named but to the Triad collectively or to one of the two not named: thus where the All-Soul is specified in a moral connection the reference may really be to The First, to The Good; and where the connection is rather intellectual than moral or merely dynamic, the All-Soul may be used as a comprehensive term for the Godhead with a real reference to the Second Hypostasis, to Divine-Mind.
The Triad, it must never, under any stress, be forgotten, is The Divinity, and each Hypostasis is Divine: the All-Soul, as Jules Simon well remarks, is the expression of the outgoing energy of the Divinity as the Intellectual-Principle is the expression of the Godhead’s self-pent Thought or Vision.
The Divinity is communicated and approached by the channel of any one of the three Hypostases. The Intellectual-Principle has its Act about The First, towards Which it “looks” in eternal “contemplation,” while, of its lavishness, it engenders the Vital-Principle or Soul; similarly the All-Soul ceaselessly “looks” towards the Intellectual-Principle, while, of its lavish energy, it engenders or creates all the lower, down to the lowest form of being in the visible universe. Thus the Divinity is communicated to all things. Now this action within the Divine-Circle is reflected by a parallel action in the lower Kosmos. All “Nature,” even in the lowest, is in ceaseless Contemplation and Aspiration: while every being, until the ultimate possible is reached, tends to engender an image of itself, it tends also to rejoin the next highest, of which it is itself a shadow or lower manifestation: even Matter, all but outcast from the sphere of Being and unable to engender, has the power of receiving form and is, thereby, tending feebly towards Authentic-Existence, towards Soul and Mind, and so is linked, distantly, with the Divine.
The Gods and Daimones
“The Gods” are frequently mentioned in the Enneads: the words are generally little more than a fossil survival, an accident of language not a reality of thought. Where, however, Plotinus names Ouranios (Cœlius) Kronos (Saturn) Zeus (Jupiter), he indicates the three Hypostases of the Divine-Being: this is part of his general assumption that all his system is contained already in the most ancient knowledge of the world.
Where we meet “The Gods” without any specification we are to understand, according to the context; sometimes the entire Divine Order; sometimes the Divine-Thoughts, The Ideas or Archetypes; sometimes exalted Beings vaguely understood to exist above man as ministers of the Supreme: sometimes the stars and earth, thought of, at least in their soul-part, as Divine-Beings: sometimes the words indicate, vaguely, the souls of lofty men; sometimes there is some vague, sleepy acceptance of the popular notion of the Olympian personalities.
The Daimones are, strictly speaking, lofty powers beneath the “Gods”: in practice they are often confounded with the Gods: the same word is translated here, according to context and English connotation, by “Supernals,” Celestials, Divine Spirits, Blessed Spirits.
Man: His Nature, Powers and Destiny
Porphyry’s arrangement of the Enneads has, at least, this one advantage that Plotinus’ work opens for us with a tract dealing mainly—and not inadequately or, on the whole, obscurely—with the Nature of Man: here then we may be very summary.
The Third Hypostasis of the Divinity—the All-Soul, the Universal Life-Principle—includes, and is, all the souls: the human soul is, therefore, the All-Soul: but it is the All-Soul set into touch with the lower: it is the All-Soul particularised for the space, at least, of the mortal life of man.
This particularisation is necessarily a limitation: it sets bounds: it comports a provisory application to this rather than that; we may, therefore, discern phases of the All-Soul in us. These phases or images of the Divine-Soul are found to be three: they are:—
1. The Intellective-Soul is impassible, all but utterly untouched by Matter, forever in the nature of things separated from the body: its Act is the act of Intellection, or Intuition, or True-Knowing of Real Existences: it has its being in eternal Contemplation of the Divine: this Act of the Intellective-Soul, identical with the Intellectual-Principle in Man, is, however, not perceived by the Man except when, by a life of philosophical morality (Sanctity or Sagehood), he has identified his entire being with this his highest principle.
2. The Reasoning-Soul is the principle of the characteristic human life: to live by the First Soul, the Intellectual-Principle, is to live as a God; in this second Soul we have the principle that constitutes the normal nature of man. This Reasoning-Soul is separable from the body but not separated. Its Act is “Discursive-Reasoning”; it knows, not in the instantaneous, unmediated, entirely adequate True-Knowing of the First soul but step by step, arriving by the way of doubt and of logic at a knowledge which is even at best imperfect: in its lower action we have as its result “doxa” the untranslatable word, usually rendered “Opinion”—in this translation represented according to context, by “Surface-Knowledge,” by “Ordinary Mentation,” by Sense-Knowing or Sense-Knowledge, or the like.
This second phase of the human soul also possesses the three faculties known as Will, Intellectual-Imagination, and Intellectual-Memory. The Intellectual-Imagination and Intellectual-Memory, distinct from the lower Imagination and Memory, deal with the intellectual element of sensation, presenting sensations, as it were, to the higher faculty for judgment and for the uses of the semi-divine life of philosophic Man.
3. The last phase of the Soul, the Unreasoning-Soul, is the Principle of Animal-Life: it constitutes, in conjunction with the body, the Animal as distinct from the Man: here for reasons of emotional connotation or clearness this phase of the soul conjoined with the body has been said to produce not “The Animal” but “The Animate” or “The Animate-Entity.” This conjunction is also called by Plotinus the “Two-together,” usually translated here as the Couplement.
The faculties of this “Unreasoning-Soul” or of the “Couplement” are the Sensible (or sense-grasping) imagination and sensible Memory, the appetites rooted in the flesh, passivity or the faculty of sensation, and the vegetative, nutritive, and generative faculties.
This last soul, or phase of the All-Soul, represents in man the very lowest “strength” of the Divinity except for the Matter which is organised by the All-Soul into the form of the body: this last soul, in other words, represents the bare fact of life, going as low as the life of the plant.
The word Soul used of man often conveys, in Plotinus’ practice, the idea of the highest in man, what we should be apt to call Spirit; sometimes, where the motion is mainly of intellectual operation, Mind will be the nearest translation; very often “Life-Principle” is the nearest.
As in Man before the organisation or shaping by the All-Soul, is the same as Matter everywhere else: there is a certain tendency to think of Matter as being “material,” e.g. in man as flesh or clay, in the world at large as some sort of powdery beginning or residue of things: this misconception must be carefully guarded out. “Matter,” says Jules Simon, “is rather a demand of thought than a reality of existence”: this is perhaps to state the case rashly, but it is certainly nearer to the true conception than is the notion the word conveys to the uninstructed mind.
Matter is the last, lowest and least emanation of the creative power of the All-Soul, or rather it is a little lower than that even: it is, to speak roughly, the point at which the creative or generative power comes to a halt; it is the Ultimate Possible, it is almost Non-Being; it would be Non-Being except that Absolute Non-Being is non-existent, impossible in a world emanating from the bounty of Being: often no doubt it is called Non-Being but this is not in strict definition but as a convenient expression of its utter, all-but infinite, remoteness from the Authentic-Existence to which, in the long line of descent, it owes its origin.
We are to think of it—as is indicated in the tract on Evil (I. 8)—as invisible, imperceptible to any sense, unknowable by any reach of the mind except by its negation of all that the mind can however feebly grasp, as utterly outside of the realm of form except in so far as feebly it stretches towards some determination in the universal pining of all things towards the Goodness and Wisdom from which however remotely all have sprung.
In so far as Evil exists, the root of evil is in Matter; but Evil does not exist; all that exists, in a half-existence, is the last effort of The Good, the point at which The Good ceases because, so to speak, endlessness has all but faded out to an end. If this seem too violent a paradox to be even mentioned amongst us, we must remember that it is to some degree merely metaphorical, like so much in Plotinus: it is the almost desperate effort to express a combined idea that seems to be instinctive in the mind of mind, the idea that Good is all-reaching and yet that it has degrees, that an Infinitely powerful Wisdom exists and operates and casts an infinite splendour on all its works while we ourselves can see, or think we see, its failures or the last and feeblest rays of its light.
The existence, or half-existence, of Matter brings about the necessity of morality: The Divine perfection is above morality, is “unmoral”; the purely material is below morality; morality is for man; man—being divine at his topmost pitch and “human” at the mean, and brute below that and merely vegetative below that and merely Matter in the lowest range of his nature—man, if he is to reach his good, the desired of every being, must “what in him is dark illumine, what is low raise and support,” if he is to rise to the height of his great argument, become what his highest is, attain his eternally destined Term.
The Term and the Way
His Way is indicated in many sumptuous passages of the Enneads—it is coldly charted for him in the tractate on Dialectic, I. 3. The Term is more richly described in the famous sixth tract of the same First Ennead: the main need, the cry, of man’s nature is to become actually, as he is always potentially, Divine: all his faculties, images each of its next highest, culminate in the Intellectual-Principle or Intellective-Principle, the Intuitional or True-knowing Faculty; and his duty, or rather his happiness, his blessedness, his deepest inner choice, is to labour his entire being into identification with this, the Divine in him: through this inner Divine, in an ecstasy away from all the lower, and first from all that links him to Matter, he may even in this life attain to the “possession” of the God-head in an ineffable act of identification, becoming Uniate, one with God, actually God, and foretasting the blessedness of the final Return after which he is for all the space of eternity to be with the God-head, to be Divine, or to be God.
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MINOR POINTS OF TERMINOLOGY
Authentic-Existent, -Existents, -Existence represent what is usually conveyed by the English philosophical term Real-Being. This choice was made, mainly, on considerations of literary convenience: an original writer can so play with his sentence-construction as to avoid the awkward clash between the Noun and Participle; a translator works more freely when there is no possibility of this clash.
It happens, moreover, that the adopted term is in itself better, at least for Plotinian uses: Real-Being carries some undesirable suggestion of the purely abstract; “The Authentic-Existent” comports something of the notion of Person or Individuality in an august sense and, so, is often though not by any means always, nearer to the Plotinian notion. The need of some such departure from the customary term was suggested by Mr. Meade’s use of the emphatic “That which is” for the same notion: Mr. Meade’s term was rejected only because it sounds a little grandiose, does not pack conveniently into every sentence and has no handy plural.
As for Plotinus’ use of the idea, it must be pointed out that it represents most often the very superlative of altitude but sometimes is employed in a derogatory sense: the Sphere of Existence is often The Intellectual-and-Intelligible-Kosmos, Divine Mind, or in general The Divine; sometimes, however, it means the realm of process or of “Becoming,” as opposed to the stately immobility of the Divine Beings, then considered as collectively Supra-Existents.
Sensation and Sense-perception are used, almost indifferently, for any action or passive-state by which man experiences the material world or any of its manifestations or representations.
Act, with the capital, usually translates the difficult word Energeia and stands for the Expression of the Identity of any being or for its characteristic function, an expression and function which may, often, be entirely within, the very reverse of any operation upon the outer.
In general, Capitalisation implies some more or less important technical use of a word.
“There”—“In the Supreme”—“In the Beyond” and other similar words or phrases translate at convenience the word “Ekei” used by Plotinus for the Divine Sphere, the Intelligible World.
The Sage translates ho Spoudaios, and means the achieved Mystic, the Adept, almost the “Uniate,” the human being who has become “wholly the Divine.”
Philosophy in Plotinus often means not Metaphysics but the Act or State of the Uniate: it might, often, without much fault of tone, be taken as the equivalent of 1, Sanctity, and 2, the Mystic Way.
Earlier and Later refer to order of emanation and therefore convey the rank of nearness or farness with regard to the Divine.
“We read” represents the “He says” with which Plotinus, like the Pythagoreans referring to their own Master, quotes or paraphrases Plato. Where Plato is mentioned by name the name appears in this translation. It has not been judged necessary to give chapter and verse for the Platonic references since the passages are invariably those which have most entered into controversy or into literary allusion.
“Elsewhere” and similar phrases may puzzle the reader: it must be remembered that we are reading the treatises in the order not of Plotinus’ writing but of Porphyry’s editing: an allusion or demonstration referred to in this First Ennead may be contained in the Sixth.
[Reference should have been made on page 116 to the monumental work of Cudworth and to Henry More; both these authors served the translator considerably in his earlier study of Plotinus. “Platonism in English Poetry of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries”; by John Smith Harrison (Columbia University Press, 1903), contains a useful study of More’s Psychodia Platonica.]
CONSPECTUS OF THE PLOTINIAN SYSTEM