Front Page Titles (by Subject) FIRST TRACTATE Fate - Psychic and Physical Treatises; comprising the Second and Third Enneads
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FIRST TRACTATE Fate - Plotinus, Psychic and Physical Treatises; comprising the Second and Third Enneads [253 AD]
Psychic and Physical Treatises; comprising the Second and Third Enneads, translated from Greek by Stephen Mackenna (Boston: Charles T. Branford, 1918).
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In the two orders of things—those whose existence is that of process and those in whom it is Authentic Being—there is a variety of possible relation to Cause.
Cause might conceivably underly all the entities in both orders or none in either. It might underly some, only, in each order, the others being causeless. It might, again, underly the Realm of Process universally while in the Realm of Authentic Existence some things were caused, others not, or all were causeless. Conceivably, on the other hand, the Authentic Existents are all caused while in the Realm of Process some things are caused and others not, or all are causeless.
Now, to begin with the Eternal Existents:—
The Firsts among these, by the fact that they are Firsts, cannot be referred to outside Causes; but all such (Eternals) as depend upon those Firsts may be admitted to derive their Being from them.
And in all cases the Act may be referred to the Essence (as its cause), for their Essence consists, precisely, in giving forth an appropriate Act.
As for Things of Process—or for Eternal Existents whose Act is not eternally invariable—we must hold that these are due to Cause; Causelessness is quite inadmissible; we can make no place here for unwarranted “slantings,” for sudden movement of bodies apart from any initiating power, for precipitate spurts in a soul with nothing to drive it into the new course of action. Such causelessness would bind the Soul under an even sterner compulsion, no longer master of itself, but at the mercy of movements apart from will and cause. Something willed—within itself or without—something desired, must lead it to action; without motive it can have no motion.
On the assumption that all happens by Cause, it is easy to discover the nearest determinants of any particular act or state and to trace it plainly to them.
The cause of a visit to the centre of affairs will be that one thinks it necessary to see some person or to receive a debt, or, in a word, that one has some definite motive or impulse confirmed by a judgment of expediency. Sometimes a condition may be referred to the arts, the recovery of health for instance to medical science and the doctor. Wealth has for its cause the discovery of a treasure or the receipt of a gift, or the earning of money by manual or intellectual labour. The child is traced to the father as its Cause and perhaps to a chain of favourable outside circumstances such as a particular diet or, more immediately, a special organic aptitude or a wife apt to childbirth.
And the general cause of all is Nature.
But to halt at these nearest determinants, not to be willing to penetrate deeper, indicates a sluggish mind, a dullness to all that calls us towards the primal and transcendent causes.
How comes it that the same surface causes produce different results? There is moonshine, and one man steals and the other does not: under the influence of exactly similar surroundings one man falls sick and the other keeps well; an identical set of operations makes one rich and leaves another poor. The differences amongst us in manners, in characters, in success, force us to go still further back.
Men therefore have never been able to rest at the surface causes.
One school postulates material principles, such as atoms; from the movement, from the collisions and combinations of these, it derives the existence and the mode of being of all particular phenomena, supposing that all depends upon how these atoms are agglomerated, how they act, how they are affected; our own impulses and states, even, are supposed to be determined by these principles.
Such teaching, then, obtrudes this compulsion, an atomic Anagke, even upon Real Being. Substitute, for the atoms, any other material entities as principles and the cause of all things, and at once Real Being becomes servile to the determination set up by them.
Others rise to the first-principle of all that exists and from it derive all they tell of a cause penetrating all things, not merely moving all but making each and everything; but they pose this as a fate and a supremely dominating cause; not merely all else that comes into being, but even our own thinking and thoughts would spring from its movement, just as the several members of an animal move not at their own choice but at the dictation of the leading principle which animal life presupposes.
Yet another school fastens on the universal Circuit as embracing all things and producing all by its motion and by the positions and mutual aspect of the planets and fixed stars in whose power of foretelling they find warrant for the belief that this Circuit is the universal determinant.
Finally, there are those that dwell on the interconnection of the causative forces and on their linked descent—every later phenomenon following upon an earlier, one always leading back to others by which it arose and without which it could not be, and the latest always subservient to what went before them—but this is obviously to bring in fate by another path. This school may be fairly distinguished into two branches; a section which makes all depend upon some one principle and a section which ignores such a unity.
Of this last opinion we will have something to say, but for the moment we will deal with the former, taking the others in their turn.
“Atoms” or “elements”—it is in either case an absurdity, an impossibility, to hand over the universe and its contents to material entities, and out of the disorderly swirl thus occasioned to call order, reasoning, and the governing soul into being; but the atomic origin is, if we may use the phrase, the most impossible.
A good deal of truth has resulted from the discussion of this subject; but, even to admit such principles does not compel us to admit universal compulsion or any kind of “fate.”
Suppose the atoms to exist:—
These atoms are to move, one downwards—admitting a down and an up (in the Universe or before the Universe is in being)—another slantwise, all at haphazard, in a confused conflict. Nothing here is orderly; order has not come into being, though the outcome, this Universe, when it achieves existence, is all order; and thus prediction and divination are utterly impossible, whether by the laws of the science—what science can operate where there is no order?—or by divine possession and inspiration, which no less require that the future be something regulated.
Material entities exposed to all this onslaught may very well be under compulsion to yield to whatsoever the atoms may bring: but would anyone pretend that the acts and states of a soul or mind could be explained by any atomic movements? How can we imagine that the onslaught of an atom, striking downwards or dashing in from any direction, could force the soul to definite and necessary reasonings or impulses or into any reasonings, impulses or thoughts at all, necessary or otherwise? And what of the soul’s resistance to bodily states? What movement of atoms could compel one man to be a geometrician, set another studying arithmetic or astronomy, lead a third to the philosophic life? In a word, if we must go, like soulless bodies, wherever bodies push and drive us, there is an end to our personal act and to our very existence as living beings.
The School that erects other material forces (such as “the elements”) into universal causes is met by the same reasoning: we say that while these can warm us and chill us, and destroy weaker forms of existence, they can be causes of nothing that is done in the sphere of mind or soul: all this must be traceable to quite another kind of Principle.
The Universe is permeated by one Soul, Cause of all things and events; every separate phenomenon as a member of a whole moves in its place with the general movement; all the various causes spring into action from one source: therefore, it is argued, the entire descending claim of causes and all their interaction must follow inevitably and so constitute a universal determination. A plant rises from a root, and we are asked on that account to reason that not only the interconnection linking the root to all the members and every member to every other but the entire activity and experience of the plant, as well, must be one organised overruling, a “destiny” of the plant.
But such an extremity of determination, a destiny so all-pervasive, does away with the very destiny that is affirmed: it shatters the sequence and co-operation of causes.
It would be unreasonable to attribute to destiny the movement of our limbs dictated by the mind and will: this is no case of something outside (some destiny) bestowing motion while another thing (mind) accepts it and is thus set into action; the mind itself (and not destiny) is the prime mover.
Similarly in the case of the universal system; if all that performs act and is subject to experience constitutes one substance, if one thing does not really produce another thing under causes leading back continuously one to another, then it is not a truth that all happens by causes, there is nothing but a rigid unity. We are no “We”: nothing is our act; our thought is not ours; our decisions are the reasoning of something outside ourselves; we are no more agents than our feet are kickers when we use them to kick with.
No; each several thing must be a separate thing; there must be acts and thoughts that are our own; the good and evil done by each human being must be his own; and it is quite certain that we must not lay any vileness to the charge of the All.
But perhaps the explanation of every particular act or event is rather that they are determined by the spheric movement—the Phora—and by the changing position of the heavenly bodies as these stand at setting or rising or in mid course and in various aspects with each other.
Augury, it is urged, is able from these indications to foretell what is to happen not merely to the universe as a whole, but even to individuals, and this not merely as regards external conditions of fortune but even as to the events of the mind. We observe, too, how growth or check in other orders of beings—animals and plants—is determined by their sympathetic relations with the heavenly bodies and how widely they are influenced by them, how, for example, the various countries show a different produce according to their situation on the earth and especially their lie towards the sun. And the effect of place is not limited to plants and animals; it rules human beings too, determining their appearance, their height and colour, their mentality and their desires, their pursuits and their moral habit. Thus the universal circuit would seem to be the monarch of the All.
Now a first answer to this theory is that its advocates have merely devised another shift to immolate to the heavenly bodies all that is ours, our acts of will and our states, all the evil in us, our entire personality; nothing is allowed to us; we are left to be stones set rolling, not men, not beings whose nature implies a task.
But we must be allowed our own—with the understanding that to what is primarily ours, our personal holding, there is added some influx from the All—the distinction must be made between our individual act and what is thrust upon us: we are not to be immolated to the stars.
Place and climate, no doubt, produce constitutions warmer or colder; and the parents tell on the offspring, as is seen in the resemblance between them, very general in personal appearance and noted also in some of the unreflecting states of the mind.
None the less, in spite of physical resemblance and similar environment, we observe the greatest difference in temperament and in ideas: this side of the human being, then, derives from some quite other Principle (than any external causation or destiny). A further confirmation is found in the efforts we make to correct both bodily constitution and mental aspirations.
If the stars are held to be causing principles on the ground of the possibility of foretelling individual fate or fortune from observation of their positions, then the birds and all the other things which the soothsayer observes for divination must equally be taken as causing what they indicate.
Some further considerations will help to clarify this matter:—
The heavens are observed at the moment of a birth and the individual fate is thence predicted in the idea that the stars are no mere indications, but active causes, of the future events. Sometimes the Astrologers tell of noble birth; “the child is born of highly placed parents”; yet how is it possible to make out the stars (of the natal chart) to be causes of a condition which existed in the father and mother previously to that star pattern on which the prediction is based?
And consider still further:—
They are really announcing the fortunes of parents from the birth of children; the character and career of children are included in the predictions as to the parents—they predict for the yet unborn!—in the lot of one brother they are foretelling the death of another; a girl’s fate includes that of a future husband, a boy’s that of a wife.
Now, can we think that the star-grouping over any particular birth can be the cause of what stands already announced in the facts about the parents? Either the previous star-groupings were the determinants of the child’s future career or, if they were not, then neither is the immediate grouping. And notice further that physical likeness to the parents—the Astrologers hold—is of purely domestic origin: this implies that ugliness and beauty are so caused and not by astral movements.
Again, there must at one and the same time be a widespread coming to birth—men, and the most varied forms of animal life at the same moment—and these should all be under the one destiny since the one pattern rules at the moment; how explain that identical star-groupings give here the human form, there the animal?
But in fact everything follows its own Kind; the birth is a horse because it comes from the Horse Kind, a man by springing from the Human Kind; offspring answers to species. Allow the kosmic circuit its part, a very powerful influence upon the thing brought into being: allow the stars a wide material action upon the bodily part of the man, producing heat and cold and their natural resultants in the physical constitution; still does such action explain character, vocation and especially all that seems quite independent of material elements, a man taking to letters, to geometry, to gambling, and becoming an originator in any of these pursuits? And can we imagine the stars, divine beings, bestowing wickedness? And what of a doctrine that makes them wreak vengeance, as for a wrong, because they are in their decline or are being carried to a position beneath the earth—as if a decline from our point of view brought any change to themselves, as if they ever ceased to traverse the heavenly spheres and to make the same figure around the earth.
Nor may we think that these divine beings lose or gain in goodness as they see this one or another of the company in various aspects, and that in their happier position they are benignant to us and, less pleasantly situated, turn maleficent. We can but believe that their circuit is for the protection of the entirety of things while they furnish the incidental service of being letters on which the augur, acquainted with that alphabet, may look and read the future from their pattern—arriving at the thing signified by such analogies as that a soaring bird tells of some lofty event.
It remains to notice the theory of the one Causing-Principle alleged to interweave everything with everything else, to make things into a chain, to determine the nature and condition of each phenomenon—a Principle which, acting through seminal (operatively productive) Reason-Forms—Logoi Spermatikoi—elaborates all that exists and happens.
The doctrine is close to that which makes the Soul of the Universe the source and cause of all condition and of all movement whether without or—supposing that we are allowed as individuals some little power towards personal act—within ourselves.
But it is the theory of the most rigid and universal Necessity: all the causative forces enter into the system, and so every several phenomenon rises necessarily; where nothing escapes Destiny, nothing has power to check or to change. Such forces beating upon us, as it were, from one general cause leave us no resource but to go where they drive. All our ideas will be determined by a chain of previous causes; our doings will be determined by those ideas; personal action becomes a mere word. That we are the agents does not save our freedom when our action is prescribed by those causes; we have precisely what belongs to everything that lives, to infants guided by blind impulses, to lunatics; all these act; why, even fire acts; there is act in everything that follows the plan of its being, servilely.
No one that sees the implications of this theory can hesitate: unable to halt at such a determinant principle, we seek for other explanations of our action.
What can this other cause be; one standing above those treated of; one that leaves nothing causeless, that preserves sequence and order in the Universe and yet allows ourselves some reality and leaves room for prediction and augury?
Soul: we must place at the crest of the world of beings, this other Principle, not merely the Soul of the Universe but, included in it, the Soul of the individual: this, no mean Principle, is needed to be the bond of union in the total of things, not, itself, a thing sprung like things from life-seeds, but a first-hand Cause, bodiless and therefore supreme over itself, free, beyond the reach of kosmic Cause: for, brought into body, it would not be unrestrictedly sovereign; it would hold rank in a series.
Now the environment into which this independent principle enters, when it comes to this midpoint, will be largely led by secondary causes (or, by chance-causes): there will therefore be a compromise; the action of the Soul will be in part guided by this environment while in other matters it will be sovereign, leading the way where it will. The nobler Soul will have the greater power; the poorer Soul, the lesser. A soul which defers to the bodily temperament cannot escape desire and rage and is abject in poverty, overbearing in wealth, arbitrary in power. The soul of nobler nature holds good against its surroundings; it is more apt to change them than to be changed, so that often it improves the environment and, where it must make concession, at least keeps its innocence.
We admit, then, a Necessity in all that is brought about by this compromise between evil and accidental circumstance: what room was there for anything else than the thing that is? Given all the causes, all must happen beyond aye or nay—that is, all the external and whatever may be due to the sidereal circuit—therefore when the Soul has been modified by outer forces and acts under that pressure so that what it does is no more than an unreflecting acceptance of stimulus, neither the act nor the state can be described as voluntary: so, too, when even from within itself, it falls at times below its best and ignores the true, the highest, laws of action.
But when our Soul holds to its Reason-Principle, to the guide, pure and detached and native to itself, only then can we speak of personal operation, of voluntary act. Things so done may truly be described as our doing, for they have no other source; they are the issue of the unmingled Soul, a Principle that is a First, a leader, a sovereign not subject to the errors of ignorance, not to be overthrown by the tyranny of the desires which, where they can break in, drive and drag, so as to allow of no act of ours, but mere answer to stimulus.
To sum the results of our argument:—All things and events are foreshown and brought into being by causes; but the causation is of two Kinds; there are results originating from the Soul and results due to other causes, those of the environment.
In the action of our Souls all that is done of their own motion in the light of sound reason is the Soul’s work, while what is done where they are hindered from their own action is not so much done as suffered. Unwisdom, then, is not due to the Soul, and, in general—if we mean by Fate a compulsion outside ourselves—an act is fated when it is contrary to wisdom.
But all our best is of our own doing: such is our nature as long as we remain detached. The wise and good do perform acts; their right action is the expression of their own power: in the others it comes in the breathing spaces when the passions are in abeyance; but it is not that they draw this occasional wisdom from outside themselves; simply, they are for the time being unhindered.