THE SIX ENNEADS of Plotinus – First Tractate
by Michael Colantoni
THE SIX ENNEADS
THE ANIMATE AND THE MAN.
1. Pleasure and distress, fear and courage, desire and aversion, where have these affections and experiences their seat?
Clearly, either in the Soul alone, or in the Soul as employing the body, or in some third entity deriving from both. And for this third entity, again, there are two possible modes: it might be either a blend or a distinct form due to the blending.
And what applies to the affections applies also to whatsoever acts, physical or mental, spring from them.
We have, therefore, to examine discursive-reason and the ordinary mental action upon objects of sense, and enquire whether these have the one seat with the affections and exper-iences, or perhaps sometimes the one seat, sometimes another.
And we must consider also our acts of Intellection, their mode and their seat.
And this very examining principle, which investigates and decides in these matters, must be brought to light.
Firstly, what is the seat of Sense-Perception? This is the obvious beginning since the affections and experiences either are sensations of some kind or at least never occur apart from sensation.
2. This first enquiry obliges us to consider at the outset the nature of the Soul — that is whether a distinction is to be made between Soul and Essential Soul [between an individual Soul and the Soul-Kind in itself.
If such a distinction holds, then the Soul [in man] is some sort of a composite and at once we may agree that it is a recipient and — if only reason allows — that all the affections and experiences really have their seat in the Soul, and with the affections every state and mood, good and bad alike.
But if Soul [in man] and Essential Soul are one and the same, then the Soul will be an Ideal-Form unreceptive of all those activities which it imparts to another Kind but possessing within itself that native Act of its own which Reason manifests.
If this be so, then, indeed, we may think of the Soul as an immortal — if the immortal, the imperishable, must be impassive, giving out something of itself but itself taking nothing from without except for what it receives from the Existents prior to itself from which Exist-ents, in that they are the nobler, it cannot be sundered.
Now what could bring fear to a nature thus unreceptive of all the outer? Fear demands feeling. Nor is there place for courage: courage implies the presence of danger. And suchdesires as are satisfied by the filling or voiding of the body, must be proper to something very different from the Soul, to that only which admits of replenishment and voidance.
And how could the Soul lend itself to any admixture? An essential is not mixed. Or of the intrusion of anything alien? If it did, it would be seeking the destruction of its own nature. Pain must be equally far from it. And Grief — how or for what could it grieve? Whatever possesses Existence is supremely free, dwelling, unchangeable, within its own peculiar nature. And can any increase bring joy, where nothing, not even anything good, can accrue? What such an Existent is, it is unchangeably.
Thus assuredly Sense-Perception, Discursive-Reasoning; and all our ordinary mentation are foreign to the Soul: for sensation is a receiving — whether of an Ideal-Form or of an impassive body — and reasoning and all ordinary mental action deal with sensation.
The question still remains to be examined in the matter of the intellections — whether these are to be assigned to the Soul — and as to Pure-Pleasure, whether this belongs to the Soul in its solitary state.
3. We may treat of the Soul as in the body — whether it be set above it or actually within it — since the association of the two constitutes the one thing called the living organ-ism, the Animate.
Now from this relation, from the Soul using the body as an instrument, it does not follow that the Soul must share the body’s experiences: a man does not himself feel all the experiences of the tools with which he is working.
It may be objected that the Soul must however, have Sense-Perception since its use of its instrument must acquaint it with the external conditions, and such knowledge comes by way of sense. Thus, it will be argued, the eyes are the instrument of seeing, and seeing may bring distress to the soul: hence the Soul may feel sorrow and pain and every other affection that belongs to the body; and from this again will spring desire, the Soul seeking the mending of its instrument.
But, we ask, how, possibly, can these affections pass from body to Soul? Body may communicate qualities or conditions to another body: but — body to Soul? Something happens to A; does that make it happen to B? As long as we have agent and instrument, there are two distinct entities; if the Soul uses the body it is separate from it.
But apart from the philosophical separation how does Soul stand to body?
Clearly there is a combination. And for this several modes are possible. There might be a complete coalescence: Soul might be interwoven through the body: or it might be an Ideal-Form detached or an Ideal-Form in governing contact like a pilot: or there might be part of the Soul detached and another part in contact, the disjoined part being the agent or user, the conjoined part ranking with the instrument or thing used.
In this last case it will be the double task of philosophy to direct this lower Soul towards the higher, the agent, and except in so far as the conjunction is absolutely necessary, to severthe agent from the instrument, the body, so that it need not forever have its Act upon or through this inferior.
4. Let us consider, then, the hypothesis of a coalescence.
Now if there is a coalescence, the lower is ennobled, the nobler degraded; the body is raised in the scale of being as made participant in life; the Soul, as associated with death and unreason, is brought lower. How can a lessening of the life-quality produce an increase such as Sense-Perception?
No: the body has acquired life, it is the body that will acquire, with life, sensation and the affections coming by sensation. Desire, then, will belong to the body, as the objects of desire are to be enjoyed by the body. And fear, too, will belong to the body alone; for it is the body’s doom to fail of its joys and to perish.
Then again we should have to examine how such a coalescence could be conceived: we might find it impossible: perhaps all this is like announcing the coalescence of things utterly incongruous in kind, let us say of a line and whiteness.
Next for the suggestion that the Soul is interwoven through the body: such a relation would not give woof and warp community of sensation: the interwoven element might very well suffer no change: the permeating soul might remain entirely untouched by what affects the body — as light goes always free of all it floods — and all the more so, since, precisely, we are asked to consider it as diffused throughout the entire frame.
Under such an interweaving, then, the Soul would not be subjected to the body’s affec-tions and experiences: it would be present rather as Ideal-Form in Matter. Let us then suppose Soul to be in body as Ideal-Form in Matter.
Now if — the first possibility — the Soul is an essence, a self-existent, it can be present only as separable form and will therefore all the more decidedly be the Using-Principle [and therefore unaffected].
Suppose, next, the Soul to be present like axe-form on iron: here, no doubt, the form is all important but it is still the axe, the complement of iron and form, that effects whatever is effected by the iron thus modified: on this analogy, therefore, we are even more strictly compelled to assign all the experiences of the combination to the body: their natural seat is the material member, the instrument, the potential recipient of life.
Compare the passage where we read2 that “it is absurd to suppose that the Soul weaves”; equally absurd to think of it as desiring, grieving. All this is rather in the province of some-thing which we may call the Animate.
5. Now this Animate might be merely the body as having life: it might be the Couplement of Soul and body: it might be a third and different entity formed from both.
The Soul in turn — apart from the nature of the Animate — must be either impassive, merely causing Sense-Perception in its yoke-fellow, or sympathetic; and, if sympathetic, it may have identical experiences with its fellow or merely correspondent experiences: desire for example in the Animate may be something quite distinct from the accompanying movement or state in the desiring faculty.
The body, the live-body as we know it, we will consider later.
Let us take first the Couplement of body and Soul. How could suffering, for example, be seated in this Couplement?
It may be suggested that some unwelcome state of the body produces a distress which reaches to a Sensitive-Faculty which in turn merges into Soul. But this account still leaves the origin of the sensation unexplained.
Another suggestion might be that all is due to an opinion or judgement: some evil seems to have befallen the man or his belongings and this conviction sets up a state of trouble in the body and in the entire Animate. But this account leaves still a question as to the source and seat of the judgement: does it belong to the Soul or to the Couplement? Besides, the judgement that evil is present does not involve the feeling of grief: the judgement might very well arise and the grief by no means follow: one may think oneself slighted and yet not be angry; and the appetite is not necessarily excited by the thought of a pleasure. We are, thus, no nearer than before to any warrant for assigning these affections to the Couplement.
Is it any explanation to say that desire is vested in a Faculty-of-desire and anger in the Irascible-Faculty and, collectively, that all tendency is seated in the Appetitive-Faculty? Such a statement of the facts does not help towards making the affections common to the Couplement; they might still be seated either in the Soul alone or in the body alone. On the one hand if the appetite is to be stirred, as in the carnal passion, there must be a heating of the blood and the bile, a well-defined state of the body; on the other hand, the impulse to-wards The Good cannot be a joint affection, but, like certain others too, it would belong necessarily to the Soul alone.
Reason, then, does not permit us to assign all the affections to the Couplement.
In the case of carnal desire, it will certainly be the Man that desires, and yet, on the other hand, there must be desire in the Desiring-Faculty as well. How can this be? Are we to suppose that, when the man originates the desire, the Desiring-Faculty moves to the order? How could the Man have come to desire at all unless through a prior activity in the Desiring-Faculty? Then it is the Desiring-Faculty that takes the lead? Yet how, unless the body be first in the appropriate condition?
6. It may seem reasonable to lay down as a law that when any powers are contained by a recipient, every action or state expressive of them must be the action or state of that recip-ient, they themselves remaining unaffected as merely furnishing efficiency.
But if this were so, then, since the Animate is the recipient of the Causing-Principle [i.e., the Soul] which brings life to the Couplement, this Cause must itself remain unaffected, all the experiences and expressive activities of the life being vested in the recipient, the Animate.
But this would mean that life itself belongs not to the Soul but to the Couplement; or at least the life of the Couplement would not be the life of the Soul; Sense-Perception would belong not to the Sensitive-Faculty but to the container of the faculty.
But if sensation is a movement traversing the body and culminating in Soul, how the soul lack sensation? The very presence of the Sensitive-Faculty must assure sensation to the Soul.
Once again, where is Sense-Perception seated?
In the Couplement. Yet how can the Couplement have sensation independently of action in the Sensitive-Faculty, the Soul left out of count and the Soul-Faculty?
7. The truth lies in the Consideration that the Couplement subsists by virtue of the Soul’s presence.
This, however, is not to say that the Soul gives itself as it is in itself to form either the Couplement or the body.
No; from the organized body and something else, let us say a light, which the Soul gives forth from itself, it forms a distinct Principle, the Animate; and in this Principle are vested Sense-Perception and all the other experiences found to belong to the Animate.
But the “We”? How have We Sense-Perception?
By the fact that We are not separate from the Animate so constituted, even though certainly other and nobler elements go to make up the entire many-sided nature of Man.
The faculty of perception in the Soul cannot act by the immediate grasping of sensible objects, but only by the discerning of impressions printed upon the Animate by sensation: these impressions are already Intelligibles while the outer sensation is a mere phantom of the other [of that in the Soul] which is nearer to Authentic-Existence as being an impassive reading of Ideal-Forms.
And by means of these Ideal-Forms, by which the Soul wields single lordship over the Animate, we have Discursive-Reasoning, Sense-Knowledge and Intellection. From this moment we have peculiarly the We: before this there was only the “Ours”; but at this stage stands the WE [the authentic Human-Principle] loftily presiding over the Animate.
There is no reason why the entire compound entity should not be described as the Animate or Living-Being — mingled in a lower phase, but above that point the beginning of the veritable man, distinct from all that is kin to the lion, all that is of the order of the multiple brute. And since The Man, so understood, is essentially the associate of the reasoning Soul,in our reasoning it is this “We” that reasons, in that the use and act of reason is a characteristic Act of the Soul.
8. And towards the Intellectual-Principle what is our relation? By this I mean, not that faculty in the soul which is one of the emanations from the Intellectual-Principle, but The Intellectual-Principle itself [Divine-Mind].
This also we possess as the summit of our being. And we have It either as common to all or as our own immediate possession: or again we may possess It in both degrees, that is in common, since It is indivisible — one, everywhere and always Its entire self — and severally in that each personality possesses It entire in the First-Soul [i.e. in the Intellectual as distin-guished from the lower phase of the Soul].
Hence we possess the Ideal-Forms also after two modes: in the Soul, as it were unrolled and separate; in the Intellectual-Principle, concentrated, one.
And how do we possess the Divinity?
In that the Divinity is contained in the Intellectual-Principle and Authentic-Existence; and We come third in order after these two, for the We is constituted by a union of the su-preme, the undivided Soul — we read — and that Soul which is divided among [living] bodies. For, note, we inevitably think of the Soul, though one undivided in the All, as being present to bodies in division: in so far as any bodies are Animates, the Soul has given itself to each of the separate material masses; or rather it appears to be present in the bodies by the fact that it shines into them: it makes them living beings not by merging into body but by giving forth, without any change in itself, images or likenesses of itself like one face caught by many mirrors.
The first of these images is Sense-Perception seated in the Couplement; and from this downwards all the successive images are to be recognized as phases of the Soul in lessening succession from one another, until the series ends in the faculties of generation and growth and of all production of offspring — offspring efficient in its turn, in contradistinction to the engendering Soul which [has no direct action within matter but] produces by mere in-clination towards what it fashions.
9. That Soul, then, in us, will in its nature stand apart from all that can cause any of the evils which man does or suffers; for all such evil, as we have seen, belongs only to the Animate, the Couplement. But there is a difficulty in understanding how the Soul can go guiltless if our mentation and reasoning are vested in it: for all this lower kind of knowledge is delusion and is the cause of much of what is evil.
When we have done evil it is because we have been worsted by our baser side — for a man is many — by desire or rage or some evil image: the misnamed reasoning that takes up with the false, in reality fancy, has not stayed for the judgement of the Reasoning-Principle: we have acted at the call of the less worthy, just as in matters of the sense-sphere we some-times see falsely because we credit only the lower perception, that of the Couplement, without applying the tests of the Reasoning-Faculty.
The Intellectual-Principle has held aloof from the act and so is guiltless; or, as we may state it, all depends on whether we ourselves have or have not put ourselves in touch with the Intellectual-Realm either in the Intellectual-Principle or within ourselves; for it is possible at once to possess and not to use.
Thus we have marked off what belongs to the Couplement from what stands by itself: the one group has the character of body and never exists apart from body, while all that has no need of body for its manifestation belongs peculiarly to Soul: and the Understanding, as passing judgement upon Sense-Impressions, is at the point of the vision of Ideal-Forms, seeing them as it were with an answering sensation (i.e., with consciousness) this last is at any rate true of the Understanding in the Veritable Soul. For Understanding, the true, is the Act of the Intellections: in many of its manifestations it is the assimilation and reconcili-ation of the outer to the inner.
Thus in spite of all, the Soul is at peace as to itself and within itself: all the changes and all the turmoil we experience are the issue of what is subjoined to the Soul, and are, as have said, the states and experiences of this elusive “Couplement.”
10. It will be objected, that if the Soul constitutes the We [the personality] and We are subject to these states then the Soul must be subject to them, and similarly that what We do must be done by the Soul.
But it has been observed that the Couplement, too — especially before our emancipation — is a member of this total We, and in fact what the body experiences we say We experience. This then covers two distinct notions; sometimes it includes the brute-part, sometimes it transcends the brute. The body is brute touched to life; the true man is the other, going pure of the body, natively endowed with the virtues which belong to the Intellectual-Activity, virtues whose seat is the Separate Soul, the Soul which even in its dwelling here may be kept apart. [This Soul constitutes the human being] for when it has wholly withdrawn, that other Soul which is a radiation [or emanation] from it withdraws also, drawn after it.
Those virtues, on the other hand, which spring not from contemplative wisdom but from custom or practical discipline belong to the Couplement: to the Couplement, too, belong the vices; they are its repugnances, desires, sympathies.
This emotion belongs sometimes to the lower part, sometimes to the interior man.
11. In childhood the main activity is in the Couplement and there is but little irradiation from the higher principles of our being: but when these higher principles act but feebly or rarely upon us their action is directed towards the Supreme; they work upon us only when they stand at the mid-point.
But does not the include that phase of our being which stands above the mid-point?
It does, but on condition that we lay hold of it: our entire nature is not ours at all times but only as we direct the mid-point upwards or downwards, or lead some particular phase of our nature from potentiality or native character into act.
And the animals, in what way or degree do they possess the Animate?
If there be in them, as the opinion goes, human Souls that have sinned, then the Anim-ating-Principle in its separable phase does not enter directly into the brute; it is there but not there to them; they are aware only of the image of the Soul [only of the lower Soul] and of that only by being aware of the body organised and determined by that image.
If there be no human Soul in them, the Animate is constituted for them by a radiation from the All-Soul.
12. But if Soul is sinless, how come the expiations? Here surely is a contradiction; on the one side the Soul is above all guilt; on the other, we hear of its sin, its purification, its expiation; it is doomed to the lower world, it passes from body to body.
We may take either view at will: they are easily reconciled.
When we tell of the sinless Soul, we make Soul and Essential-Soul one and the same: it is the simple unbroken Unity.
By the Soul subject to sin we indicate a groupment, we include that other, that phase of the Soul which knows all the states and passions: the Soul in this sense is compound, all-inclusive: it falls under the conditions of the entire living experience: this compound it is that sins; it is this, and not the other, that pays penalty.
It is in this sense that we read of the Soul: “We saw it as those others saw the sea-god Glaukos.” “And,” reading on, “if we mean to discern the nature of the Soul we must strip it free of all that has gathered about it, must see into the philosophy of it, examine with what Existences it has touch and by kinship to what Existences it is what it is.”
Thus the Life is one thing, the Act is another and the Expiator yet another. The retreat and sundering, then, must be not from this body only, but from every alien accruement. Such accruement takes place at birth; or rather birth is the coming-into-being of that other [lower] phase of the Soul. For the meaning of birth has been indicated elsewhere; it is brought about by a descent of the Soul, something being given off by the Soul other than that actually coming down in the declension.
Then the Soul has let this image fall? And this declension is it not certainly sin?
If the declension is no more than the illuminating of an object beneath, it constitutes no sin: the shadow is to be attributed not to the luminary but to the object illuminated; if the object were not there, the light could cause no shadow.
And the Soul is said to go down, to decline, only in that the object it illuminates lives by its life. And it lets the image fall only if there be nothing near to take it up; and it lets it fall, not as a thing cut off, but as a thing that ceases to be: the image has no further being when the whole Soul is looking toward the Supreme.
The poet, too, in the story of Hercules, seems to give this image separate existence; he puts the shade of Hercules in the lower world and Hercules himself among the gods: treating the hero as existing in the two realms at once, he gives us a twofold Hercules.
It is not difficult to explain this distinction. Hercules was a hero of practical virtue. By his noble serviceableness he was worthy to be a God. On the other hand, his merit was action and not the Contemplation which would place him unreservedly in the higher realm. Therefore while he has place above, something of him remains below.
13. And the principle that reasons out these matters? Is it We or the Soul?
We, but by the Soul.
But how “by the Soul”? Does this mean that the Soul reasons by possession [by contact with the matters of enquiry]?
No; by the fact of being Soul. Its Act subsists without movement; or any movement that can be ascribed to it must be utterly distinct from all corporal movement and be simply the Soul’s own life.
And Intellection in us is twofold: since the Soul is intellective, and Intellection is the highest phase of life, we have Intellection both by the characteristic Act of our Soul and by the Act of the Intellectual-Principle upon us — for this Intellectual-Principle is part of us no less than the Soul, and towards it we are ever rising.
(Plotinus (/plɒˈtaɪnəs/; Greek: Πλωτῖνος; c. 204/5 – 270) was a major philosopher of the ancient world. In his philosophy there are three principles: the One, the Intellect, and the Soul. His teacher was Ammonius Saccas and he is of the Platonic tradition. Historians of the 19th century invented the term Neoplatonism and applied it to him and his philosophy which was influential in Late Antiquity. Much of the biographical information about Plotinus comes from Porphyry’s preface to his edition of Plotinus’ Enneads. His metaphysical writings have inspired centuries of Pagan, Christian, Jewish, Islamic and Gnostic metaphysicians and mystics.)