Front Page Titles (by Subject) THIRD TRACTATE On Providence: Second Treatise - Psychic and Physical Treatises; comprising the Second and Third Enneads
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THIRD TRACTATE On Providence: Second Treatise - 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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What is our answer?
All events and things, good and evil alike, are included under the Universal Reason-Principle of which they are parts—strictly “included” for this Universal Idea does not engender them but encompasses them.
The Reason-Principles are acts or expressions of a Universal Soul; its parts (i.e. events good and evil) are expressions of these Soul-parts.
This unity, Soul, has different parts; the Reason-Principles, correspondingly, will also have their parts, and so, too, will the ultimates of the system, all that they bring into being.
The Souls are in harmony with each other and so, too, are their acts and effects; but it is harmony in the sense of a resultant unity built out of contraries. All things, as they rise from a unity, come back to unity by a sheer need of nature; differences unfold themselves, contraries are produced, but all is drawn into one organised system by the unity at the source.
The principle may be illustrated from the different classes of animal life: there is one genus, horse, though horses among themselves fight and bite and show malice and angry envy: so all the others within the unity of their Kind; and so humanity.
All these types, again, can be ranged under the one Kind, that of living things; objects without life can be thought of under their specific types and then be resumed under the one Kind of the “non-living”; if we choose to go further yet, living and non-living may be included under the one Kind, “Beings,” and, further still, under the Source of Being.
Having attached all to this source, we turn to move down again in continuous division: we see the Unity fissuring, as it reaches out into Universality, and yet embracing all in one system so that with all its differentiation it is one multiple living thing—an organism in which each member executes the function of its own nature while it still has its being in that One Whole; fire burns; horse does horse work; men give, each the appropriate act of the peculiar personal quality—and upon the several particular Kinds to which each belongs follow the acts, and the good or evil of the life.
Circumstances are not sovereign over the good of life, for they are themselves moulded by their priors and come in as members of a sequence. The Leading-Principle holds all the threads while the minor agents, the individuals, serve according to their own capacities, as in a war the generalissimo lays down the plan and his subordinates do their best to its furtherance. The Universe has been ordered by a Providence that may be compared to a general; he has considered operations, conditions and such practical needs as food and drink, arms and engines of war; all the problem of reconciling these complex elements has been worked out beforehand so as to make it probable that the final event may be success. The entire scheme emerges from the general’s mind with a certain plausible promise, though it cannot cover the enemy’s operations, and there is no power over the disposition of the enemy’s forces: but where the mighty general is in question whose power extends over all that is, what can pass unordered, what can fail to fit into the plan?
For, even though the I is sovereign in choosing, yet by the fact of the choice the thing done takes its place in the ordered total. Your personality does not come from outside into the universal scheme; you are a part of it, you and your personal disposition.
But what is the cause of this initial personality?
This question resolves itself into two: are we to make the Creator, if Creator there is, the cause of the moral quality of the individual or does the responsibility lie with the creature?
Or is there, perhaps, no responsibility? After all, none is charged in the case of plants brought into being without the perceptive faculties; no one is blamed because animals are not all that men are—which would be like complaining that men are not all that gods are. Reason acquits plant and animal and, their maker; how can it complain because men do not stand above humanity?
If the reproach simply means that Man might improve by bringing from his own stock something towards his betterment we must allow that the man failing in this is answerable for his own inferiority: but if the betterment must come not from within the man but from without, from his Author, it is folly to ask more than has been given, as foolish in the case of man as in plant and animal.
The question is not whether a thing is inferior to something else but whether in its own Kind it suffices to its own part; universal equality there cannot be.
Then the Reason-Principle has measured things out with the set purpose of inequality?
Certainly not: the inequality is inevitable by the nature of things: the Reason-Principle of this Universe follows upon a phase of the Soul; the Soul itself follows upon an Intellectual Principle, and this Intellectual Principle is not one among the things of the Universe but is all things; in all things, there is implied variety of things; where there is variety and not identity there must be primals, secondaries, tertiaries and every grade downward. Forms of life, then, there must be that are not pure Soul but the dwindling of Souls enfeebled stage by stage of the process. There is, of course, a Soul in the Reason-Principle constituting a living being, but it is another Soul (a lesser phase), not that (the Supreme Soul) from which the Reason-Principle itself derives; and this combined vehicle of life weakens as it proceeds towards matter, and what it engenders is still more deficient. Consider how far the engendered stands from its origin and yet, what a marvel!
In sum nothing can secure to a thing of process the quality of the prior order, loftier than all that is product and amenable to no charge in regard to it: the wonder is, only, that it reaches and gives to the lower at all, and that the traces of its presence should be so noble. And if its outgiving is greater than the lower can appropriate, the debt is the heavier; all the blame must fall upon the unreceptive creature, and Providence be the more exalted.
If man were all of one piece—I mean, if he were nothing more than a made thing, acting and acted upon according to a fixed nature—he could be no more subject to reproach and punishment than the mere animals. But as the scheme holds, man is singled out for condemnation when he does evil; and this with justice. For he is no mere thing made to rigid plan; his nature contains a Principle apart and free.
This does not, however, stand outside of Providence or of the Reason of the All; the Over-World cannot be dependent upon the World of Sense. The higher shines down upon the lower, and this illumination is Providence in its highest aspect: The Reason-Principle has two phases, one which creates the things of process and another which links them with the higher beings: these higher beings constitute the over-providence on which depends that lower providence which is the secondary Reason-Principle inseparably united with its primal: the two—the Major and Minor Providence—acting together produce the universal woof, the one all-comprehensive Providence.
Men possess, then, a distinctive Principle: but not all men turn to account all that is in their Nature; there are men that live by one Principle and men that live by another or, rather, by several others, the least noble. For all these Principles are present even when not acting upon the man—though we cannot think of them as lying idle; everything performs its function.
“But,” it will be said, “what reason can there be for their not acting upon the man once they are present; inaction must mean absence?”
We maintain their presence always, nothing void of them.
But surely not where they exercise no action? If they necessarily reside in all men, surely they must be operative in all—this Principle of free action, especially.
First of all, this free Principle is not an absolute possession of the animal Kinds and is not even an absolute possession to all men.
So this Principle is not the only effective force in all men?
There is no reason why it should not be. There are men in whom it alone acts, giving its character to the life while all else is but Necessity (and therefore outside of blame).
For (in the case of an evil life) whether it is that the constitution of the man is such as to drive him down the troubled paths or whether (the fault is mental or spiritual in that) the desires have gained control, we are compelled to attribute the guilt to the substratum (something inferior to the highest principle in Man). We would be naturally inclined to say that this substratum (the responsible source of evil) must be Matter and not, as our argument implies, the Reason-Principle; it would appear that not the Reason-Principle but Matter were the dominant, crude Matter at the extreme and then Matter as shaped in the realised man: but we must remember that to this free Principle in man (which is a phase of the All Soul) the Substratum (the direct inferior to be moulded) is (not Matter but) the Reason-Principle itself with whatever that produces and moulds to its own form, so that neither crude Matter nor Matter organised in our human total is sovereign within us.
The quality now manifested may be probably referred to the conduct of a former life; we may suppose that previous actions have made the Reason-Principle now governing within us inferior in radiance to that which ruled before; the Soul which later will shine out again is for the present at a feebler power.
And any Reason-Principle may be said to include within itself the Reason-Principle of Matter which therefore it is able to elaborate to its own purposes, either finding it consonant with itself or bestowing upon it the quality which makes it so. The Reason-Principle of an ox does not occur except in connection with the Matter appropriate to the ox-Kind. It must be by such a process that the transmigration, of which we read (in Plato) takes place; the Soul must lose its nature, the Reason-Principle be transformed; thus there comes the ox-soul which once was Man.
The degradation, then, is just.
Still, how did the inferior Principle ever come into being, and how does the higher fall to it?
Once more—not all things are Firsts; there are Secondaries and Tertiaries, of a nature inferior to that of their Priors; and a slight tilt is enough to determine the departure from the straight course. Further, the linking of any one being with any other amounts to a blending such as to produce a distinct entity, a compound of the two; it is not that the greater and prior suffers any diminution of its own nature; the lesser and secondary is such from its very beginning; it is in its own nature the lesser thing it becomes, and if it suffers the consequences, such suffering is merited: all our reasonings on these questions must take account of previous living as the source from which the present takes its rise.
There is, then, a Providence, which permeates the Kosmos from first to last, not everywhere equal, as in a numerical distribution, but proportioned, differing, according to the grades of place—just as in some one animal, linked from first to last, each member has its own function, the nobler organ the higher activity while others successively concern the lower degrees of the life, each part acting of itself, and experiencing what belongs to its own nature and what comes from its relation with every other. Strike, and what is designed for utterance gives forth the appropriate volume of sound while other parts take the blow in silence but react in their own especial movement; the total of all the utterance and action and receptivity constitutes what we may call the personal voice, life and history of the living form. The parts, distinct in Kind, have distinct functions: the feet have their work and the eyes theirs; the understanding serves to one end, the Intellectual Principle to another.
But all sums to a unity, a comprehensive Providence. From the inferior grade downwards is Fate: the upper is Providence alone: for in the Intellectual Kosmos all is Reason-Principle or its Priors—Divine Mind and unmingled Soul—and immediately upon these follows Providence which rises from Divine Mind, is the content of the Unmingled Soul, and, through this Soul, is communicated to the Sphere of living things.
This Reason-Principle comes as a thing of unequal parts, and therefore its creations are unequal, as, for example, the several members of one Living Being. But after this allotment of rank and function, all act consonant with the will of the gods keeps the sequence and is included under the providential government, for the Reason-Principle of providence is god-serving.
All such right-doing, then, is linked to Providence; but it is not therefore performed by it: men or other agents, living or lifeless, are causes of certain things happening, and any good that may result is taken up again by Providence. In the total, then, the right rules and what has happened amiss is transformed and corrected. Thus, to take an example from a single body, the Providence of a living organism implies its health; let it be gashed or otherwise wounded, and that Reason-Principle which governs it sets to work to draw it together, knit it anew, heal it, and put the affected part to rights.
In sum, evil belongs to the sequence of things, but it comes (not from Providence but) from necessity. It originates in ourselves; it has its causes no doubt, but we are not, therefore, forced to it by Providence: some of these causes we adapt to the operation of Providence and of its subordinates, but with others we fail to make the connection; the act instead of being ranged under the will of Providence consults the desire of the agent alone or of some other element in the Universe, something which is either itself at variance with Providence or has set up some such state of variance in ourselves.
The one circumstance does not produce the same result wherever it acts; the normal operation will be modified from case to case: Helen’s beauty told very differently on Paris and on Idomeneus; bring together two handsome people of loose character and two living honourably and the resulting conduct is very different; a good man meeting a libertine exhibits a distinct phase of his nature and, similarly, the dissolute answer to the society of their betters.
The act of the libertine is not done by Providence or in accordance with Providence; neither is the action of the good done by Providence—it is done by the man—but it is done in accordance with Providence, for it is an act consonant with the Reason-Principle. Thus a patient following his treatment is himself an agent and yet is acting in accordance with the doctor’s method inspired by the art concerned with the causes of health and sickness: what one does against the laws of health is one’s act, but an act conflicting with the Providence of medicine.
But, if all this be true, how can evil fall within the scope of seership? The predictions of the seers are based on observation of the Universal Circuit: how can this indicate the evil with the good?
Clearly the reason is that all contraries coalesce. Take, for example, Shape and (its contrary) Matter: the living being (of the lower order) is a coalescence of these two; so that to be aware of the Shape and the Reason-Principle is to be aware of the Matter on which the Shape has been imposed.
The living-being of the compound order is not present (as pure and simple Idea) like the living being of the Intellectual order: in the compound entity, we are aware, at once, of the Reason-Principle and of the inferior element brought under form. Now the Universe is such a compound living thing: to observe, therefore, its content is to be aware not less of its lower elements than of the Providence which operates within it.
This Providence reaches to all that comes into being; its scope therefore includes living things with their actions and states, the total of their history at once overruled by the Reason-Principle and yet subject in some degree to Necessity.
These, then, are presented as mingled both by their initial nature and by the continuous process of their existence; and the Seer is not able to make a perfect discrimination setting on the one side Providence with all that happens under Providence and on the other side what the substrate communicates to its product. Such discrimination is not for a man, not for a wise man or a divine man: one may say it is the prerogative of a god. Not causes but facts lie in the Seer’s province; his art is the reading of the scriptures of Nature which tell of the ordered and never condescend to the disorderly; the movement of the Universe utters its testimony to him and, before men and things reveal themselves, brings to light what severally and collectively they are.
Here conspires with There and There with Here, elaborating together the consistency and eternity of a Kosmos and by their correspondences revealing the sequence of things to the trained observer—for every form of divination turns upon correspondences. Universal interdependence, there could not be, but universal resemblance there must. This probably is the meaning of the saying that Correspondences maintain the Universe.
This is a correspondence of inferior with inferior, of superior with superior, eye with eye, foot with foot, everything with its fellow and, in another order, virtue with right action and vice with unrighteousness. Admit such correspondence in the All and we have the possibility of prediction. If the one order acts on the other, the relation is not that of maker to thing made—the two are coeval—it is the interplay of members of one living being; each in its own place and way moves as its own nature demands; to every organ its grade and task, and to every grade and task its effective organ.
And since the higher exists, there must be the lower as well. The Universe is a thing of variety, and how could there be an inferior without a superior or a superior without an inferior? We cannot complain about the lower in the higher; rather, we must be grateful to the higher for giving something of itself to the lower.
In a word, those that would like evil driven out from the All would drive out Providence itself.
What would Providence have to provide for? Certainly not for itself or for the Good: when we speak of a Providence above, we mean an act upon something below.
That which resumes all under a unity is a Principle in which all things exist together and the single thing is All. From this Principle, which remains internally unmoved, particular things push forth as from a single root which never itself emerges. They are a branching into part, into multiplicity, each single outgrowth bearing its trace of the common source. Thus, phase by phase, there is finally the production into this world; some things close still to the root, others widely separate in the continuous progression until we have, in our metaphor, bough and crest, foliage and fruit. At the one side all is one point of unbroken rest, on the other is the ceaseless process, leaf and fruit, all the things of process carrying ever within themselves the Reason-Principles of the Upper Sphere, and striving to become trees in their own minor order and producing, if at all, only what is in strict gradation from themselves.
As for the abandoned spaces in what corresponds to the branches these too draw upon the root, from which, despite all their variance, they also derive; and the branches again operate upon their own furthest extremities: operation is to be traced only from point to next point, but, in the fact, there has been both inflow and outgo (of creative or modifying force) at the very root which, itself again, has its priors.
The things that act upon each other are branchings from a far-off beginning and so stand distinct; but they derive initially from the one source: all interaction is like that of brothers, resemblant as drawing life from the same parents.