Front Page Titles (by Subject) V.: TERMINOLOGY - The Ethical Treatises, being the Treatises of the First Ennead
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V.: TERMINOLOGY - 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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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.
. . . . . . . . . .
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
THE PRELLER-RITTER EXTRACTS FORMING A CONSPECTUS OF THE PLOTINIAN SYSTEM
The translator had written copious notes with reference to many passages of the Enneads when, at last and just in time, he saw that the method of particular explanation would lead inevitably to endless repetition with not a little final ambiguity. In a good translation no single passage should be difficult to anyone having a firm grasp of the Neo-Platonic system.
After the study of the general exposition given under the heading “Terminology,” the novice will find the first difficulties wonderfully cleared by the reading of the passages selected by Preller and Ritter as embodying the main substance of the doctrine.
Since all this matter will appear, elaborately worked, in its proper place in the course of this complete rendering of the Enneads now beginning to appear, it has been judged sufficient for the immediate purpose to translate these Preller-Ritter extracts in somewhat rough-and-ready fashion; they, too, serve as a chart, merely.
The edition used is “Historia Philosophiæ Græcæ et Romanæ ex Fontium Locis contexta. . . . H. Ritter et L. Preller. . . . Gothæ, 1864.” Where the compilers had presented a flagrantly vicious text, the emendations of Volkmann have been adopted.
The Notes following each of the fourteen main extracts and embodying other extracts, are also the work of Preller and Ritter. In translation some explosions of mere learning have been suppressed and some more substantial passages, too—these last where the translator, having taken up Plotinus’ text earlier or carried it further than the compilers, found that their remarks or illustrations had become superfluous. The compilers have occasionally caught too quickly at the first apparent meaning of a passage without sufficient study of its context—a common fault in citation from the Enneads—and the notes sometimes state very bluntly matters calling for very fine distinction: the translator has sometimes judged well to vary their phrasing to meet such cases, sometimes has left the errors to be tranquilly corrected by the evidence the compilers themselves furnish.
Whatever fault may be found with the compilers or with their hasty translator, it will remain the fact that to know this Preller-Ritter Conspectus through and through is to have present to the mind a very useful and nearly adequate compendium of the system.