Front Page Titles (by Subject) VI: The Absolute Transcendence of The One - The Ethical Treatises, being the Treatises of the First Ennead
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VI: The Absolute Transcendence of The One - 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 Absolute Transcendence of The One
VI. 9, 3. Since the Nature or Hypostasis of The One is the engenderer of the All, It can Itself be none of the things in the All; that is It is not a thing; it does not possess quality or quantity; It is not an Intellectual-Principle, not a Soul; It is not in motion and not at rest; not in space, not in time; It is essentially of a unique form or rather of no-form, since it is prior to form as It is prior to movement and to rest: all these categories hold only in the realm of Existence and constitute the Multiplicity characteristic of that lower realm.
The One can be indicated only in negations:—
VI. 8, 11. “How can we make such a statement about It, seeing that all else we say of it is said by negation?”
No attribute can be affirmed of It: we penetrate to It only by mystic contemplation, the senses sealed:—
See I. 6, 8. Page 88 of this work.
The One is without thought but also without ignorance:—
VI. 9, 6. “That It neither knows nor has Intellection of Itself does not constitute any ignorance in It. Ignorance implies something outside the ignorer . . . but what stands absolutely alone neither knows anything nor has anything to ignore; being one and always present to itself it has no need of self-knowing; in fact, even that self-presence ought not to be attributed to It if we are to preserve Its unity; we must rule out all knowing and all consciousness whether of Itself or of aught else; we must conceive It not as having Intellection but as being the object of Intellection (object to the knowing of the Divine Mind).
Hence it follows that The One is not intelligible in Itself but only to the Divine Intellectual-Principle:—
V. 6, 2. “In regard to the Intellectual-Principle The One will be Intelligible, an object of true-knowing, but within Itself It will strictly neither possess Intellection nor be the object of Intellection.”
The One does not even possess will; if Plotinus, after Plato, names It The Good, even this must be understood in a modified sense:—
VI. 9, 6. “All that can be said to lack or desire, lacks or desires the Good that will complete it: The One, therefore, can experience no Good nor any will to Good; It is the Beyond-Good, or It is good, not in regard to Itself, but in regard to the lower that is capable of partaking in it.”
Similarly if It is called the Source and the Cause, this is not a definition of The One as It is in Itself but the statement of a relation in which the lower stands to It:—
VI. 8, 8. “All things, however exalted, august, are later than This: It is the source of all, though in some sense It is no source: we must keep all things apart from It . . . even freedom of action. . . . It can enter into no relation with the realm of Existence.”
VI. 9, 3. “When we call it a Cause we are not making an assertion about It but about ourselves; we speak of what we derive from It while It remains steadfastly within Itself.”
Plotinus is insistent that this name, The One, is a poor shift towards indicating a Nature which can never be expressed, of which no knowledge is possible:—
VI. 9, 5. “This Wonder, this One, to which in verity no name may be given . . . but since we must treat of It we may thus name It, but on condition of bearing in mind the special sense and guarding against confusing It with any form that may be suggested by the numerical designation.”
V. 3, 13. “Hence It can not be truly designated; any name employed makes It some thing; but That which is above all things—above that most august of Existents, the Intellectual-Principle—This alone of all is authentic; It is no thing among things; It is nameless, for It falls under no class; we can attempt no more than to use words which will in some helpful way indicate It for the purposes of discussion.”
VI. 8, 8. “Language fails even for the adequate discussion of the Transcendent, much more for defining it.”