Front Page Titles (by Subject) II: The Grandeur of the Soul (Human and Divine) - The Ethical Treatises, being the Treatises of the First Ennead
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II: The Grandeur of the Soul (Human and Divine) - 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 Grandeur of the Soul (Human and Divine)
V. 1, 2. Before all let every Soul remember that itself is the creator of every living thing, having breathed the life into them: into all that the earth nourishes and the sea; all that are in the air and all the divine stars in the heavens; itself has formed the sun and this vast firmament of sky: itself has given them their stately ordering and leads them around in their ranks: and it is a Nature apart from all to which it gives the order and the movement and the life, and it must of necessity be more honourable than they; for they are things whose being has had a beginning, and they perish when the Soul that leads the chorus-dance of life departs, but the Soul itself has ever-being since it cannot suffer change. . . . As rays from the sun pour light upon a gloomy cloud and make it shine in a golden glory, so the Soul when it comes to body touches it to life, brings immortality to it, wakes it where it lies prostrate; and the heavenly-system, taking up its everlasting movement under the leading of the wisdom of the Soul, becomes a blissful living-being, venerable with the Soul that dwells within, a dead body before the Soul came, or rather mere darkness of Matter, Non-Being, “hated of the gods.”
What the Soul is, and what its power, will be more manifestly, more splendidly, evident, if we think how its counsel comprehends and conducts the heavens, how it communicates itself to all this vast bulk and ensouls it through all its extension, through big and little so that every particle of the great frame, though each has its own need and function and some are closely linked and some far apart, every particle has its own place in Soul.
But the Soul itself is not thus dismembered, it does not give life parcelwise, a fragment of Soul to a fragment of matter; every fragment lives by the Soul entire which is present everywhere, present as a unit and as an Universal, as is the Father that engendered it.
And the heavens, manifold in content and in spatial difference, become a Unity by the power and faculty of the Soul, and through Soul this world is a God. And the Sun too is a God, for it too is ensouled; so too the stars: and if we ourselves are anything, we come to it through the Soul: “Dead is nastier than dung.” . . .
If it is soul that gives worth, why does anyone ignore himself and follow aught else? You reverence the Soul elsewhere; then revere yourself.
(The Compilers say, “This passage evidently refers to the Soul-of-the-World”; it does, but, as they proceed to indicate, it refers also to the human Soul, as being one with the Divine All-Soul.)
The ninth treatise of the Fourth Ennead is devoted, entire, to proving That All the Souls are One Soul.
The main argument is that only bodies are separated by mass, place, limit.
IV. 9, 1. “Why should the Soul in myself be One and the Soul of the All not One? All the more why, since in the divine there is no mass, no body?”
VI. 4, 4. “The Souls are separate without being distinct; they are present to each other as one; they are no more sundered by boundaries than are the manifold elements of a science in any one mind: the one Soul is of such a nature as to include all, for it knows nothing of limits.”
Remark, however, that there is still a multiplicity of souls:—
IV. 9, 2. “We do not declare the Soul to be one in the sense of entirely excluding Multiplicity: this absolute Unity belongs only to the prior Kind (The Transcendent): we make it both one and manifold: it has part in the Nature which is divided among bodies; but it has part also in the Indivisible and so we find it One again.”
Proof of the Soul’s unity is afforded by human sympathy and by the efficacy of the magic arts:—
IV. 9, 3. “We share each others’ feelings; if we see another in distress we suffer with him; we are irresistibly impelled to form friendships: incantations and other magical practices draw us together and call out sympathetic response from afar: all this is a token to us of the unity of the Souls.”
How we are to understand the co-existence of Unity and Multiplicity in the Soul is exhibited in a neighbouring passage:—
“The Indivisible Soul (the Unity of the Soul) is seated in the Intellectual-Principle which is not divided among the bodily forms; the divisible Soul is seated within (or around) the bodies; it is essentially one in identity but, associated with different bodies, it brings sensation about, and may be called another faculty or power of the Soul; so too with (the still lower) that faculty which has creative power and procures the multiplication of bodily-life. This manifoldness of faculty does not take away unity; a seed has the power of manifold production and yet is one thing, and out of this Unity springs the unity of its produce.”
Plotinus frequently uses the simile (as above) of the Unity of knowledge to illustrate the Unity of particular Souls in the All-Soul: thus—
IV. 9, 5. “The particular Souls merge into one Soul which has given itself to form the Multiplicity and yet has kept its character: it is of a quality to remain one though it bestow itself upon all; its potency runs to all at once; it is present in every particular Soul and is the same in them all: no one need baulk at this doctrine if he will but think how a science, with all its detail, constitutes one whole: the whole remains a unity and yet is divisible into its parts.”