Jacques Maritain Center : A History of Western Philosophy Vol. I / by Ralph McInerny

Part III: The Hellenistic Period

Chapter IV


In an earlier chapter we have seen that in the later Platonic Academy attempts were made to reconcile the Plato's thought with that of other schools, particularly the Peripatetic and the Stoic. It is this tendency above all others which is characteristic of what is called Neoplatonism, a movement of thought which can be taken to achieve its zenith with Plotinus. Before turning to Plotinus himself, we must mention a number of significant events in the first centuries of our era.

A. Revival of Pythagoreanism.

We have ample evidence that a revival of Pythagoreanism took place, perhaps in the first century B.C. Diogenes Laertius records a brief account of Alexander Polyhistor (VIII, 25-35) which begins as follows. "The principle of all things is the monad or unit; arising from this monad the undefined dyad or two serves as a material substratum to the monad, which is cause; from the monad and the undefined dyad spring numbers; from numbers, points; from points, lines; from lines, plane figures; from plane figures, solid figures; from solid figures, sensible bodies, the elements of which are four, fire, water, earth and air; these elements interchange and turn into one another completely, and combine to produce a universe animate, intelligent, spherical, with the earth at its center, the earth itself too being spherical and inhabited round about." What is of present interest in Neopythagoreanism is this notion of all things flowing from the One which prefigures the theories of emanation we shall find in other late schools. Moreover, coupled with an exaggerated reverence for Pythagoras and a revival of the religious practises of the early school, is the effort to apply Pythagoreanism to other philosophical schools. Thus, we find Pythagorean interpretations of Plato. Between the One and the world, there are daemons whose function it is to govern the world. Nicomachus of Gerasa who lived in the middle of the second century of our era and who wrote an Introduction to Arithmetic can be counted among the Neopythagoreans. He is noteworthy for his insistence on knowledge of mathematics as a prerequisite for wisdom and for locating numbers in the mind of God. The order and harmony of the universe indicate that it is patterned on numbers and their proportions which accordingly must exist in the mind of the fashioner of the world. (Cf. DeVogel, III, 2388b)

The Hermetic writings (Corpus Hermeticum) were probably collected around 300 A.D. These are attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, a name apparently derived from an attempt to identify the Greek god Hermes and the Egyptian god Tat. The section of the Corpus known as Poimander seems to respresent a type of gnosticism, that is, an amalgam of Christianity and paganism, although the Hermetic writings contain much less Christian reference than popular gnostic writings. The production of the world is explained in the following fashion. A part of God breaks off and becomes chaotic nature on which a Logos also proceeding from God descends, separating the elements from one another. The Father God is present in the cosmos in the form of innumerable powers which seem to be akin to the Platonic Ideas which are located apparently in the divine mind. The original God and the Logos fashion a third god, a demiurge who is also an intellect and the fashioner of the heavenly bodies which govern the sensible world. The first god fashions man equal to himself, while other living things are made by the second and third gods. When man comes to see his origin, he faces the task of returning to it: the route back is by way of purgation as well as by an illumination from God. In the Hermetic writings there is a tension between reunion with God by means of knowledge of a scientific type and by means of a mystical vision. Of interest is the notion of intermediaries between God and the sensible world and the ambiguity involved in treating the sensible world as evil in itself but also as an image of God. Man is a compound of light and matter and his task is to free himself from the clutches of the body and matter and return to his source: this ascent becomes a matter of celestial geography, a movement from sphere to sphere and then beyond.

Numenius of Apameia in Syria, who lived in the second half of the second century of our era, also speaks of three gods, the father, the maker and the made. The first god is transcendent and has nothing to do with the formation of the cosmos; the second is the demiurge, the cause of becoming who forms the world. The third god is the formed world. The first god is absolutely one and is identified with Plato's God as well as with Aristotle's self-thinking thought. If the first god is transcendent and indifferent to the cosmos, the demiurge is not; it is by his thinking of man that man is kept alive. There is a dispute as to whether the third god is to be taken to be the sensible world itself or the conception of the world in the mind of the demiurge. Matter itself is conceived to be positively evil by Numenius; consequently, the soul's union with body is an evil and death a liberation which permits the soul to rejoin its principle.

Mention must be made here of the Jewish philosophers of antiquity, particularly those at Alexandria, although with them a factor is introduced which sets them definitely off from all other thinkers we have considered, a factor which gives them far greater affinity with the men to be considered in the next volume of this series. This can best be exemplified by Philo Judaeus (c. 25 B.C. - 40 A.D.), a man who accepted as revealed truth the Jewish Scriptures and was at the same time drawn to the philosophy of the Greeks. This led him to interpret the Scriptures in terms of Greek philosophy, an effort actually begun, according to Wolfson,{51} when the Pentateuch was translated into Greek around 260 B.C. The effort of Philo carries with it difficulties which we shall not undertake to discuss here, preferring to postpone the matter until our consideration of the confrontation of philosophy on the part of the Christians. At that time, we shall endeavor to sketch the main lines of the effort of Philo Judaeus. For the present, we must turn to Plotinus.

B. Plotinus

Plotinus was born in Egypt (we are not sure of the city) in 203/4 A.D. He studied at Alexandria, spending many years as the pupil of Ammonias Saccas who is said to have been the founder of Neoplatonism. When he was forty, Plotinus came to Rome where he was a very successful teacher, numbering senators among his students and acquiring the favor of the Emperor himself. When Plotinus was sixty, Porphyry became his student and we are indebted to the latter not only for a life of Plotinus but also for the present form of the writings. Porphyry arranged the writings of his master into six groups each containing nine tractates; it is because each book contains nine tractates that the work is known as the Enneads. Each tractate is divided into chapters but there is no uniform number of these. References to Plotinus involve the citation of the Ennead, the tractate, the chapter; e.g., I, ii, 1. Porphyry tells us that Plotinus was a most effective teacher. Plotinus, as might be expected from his doctrine, was a deeply spiritual man, ascetic in his habits, who according to Porphyry, achieved ecstatic union with God a number of times during the six years Porphyry was his pupil. There are no references to Christianity in Plotinus, though he does criticize the Gnostics. We are told that Plotinus had an unrealized hope of founding a city to be

called Platopolis in which a perfect society could flourish. In the Enneads, Plotinus sets forth the structure of the world and our place in that structure, the manner in which all things proceed from the One and return once more to it. There is multiplicity and unity, consequently, and Plotinus speaks of the unity in a striking fashion.

The elements in their totality, as they stand produced, may be thought of as one spheric figure; this cannot be the piecemeal product of many makers each working from some one point on some other portion. There must be one cause; and this must operate as an entire, not by part executing part; otherwise we are brought back to a plurality of makers. (VI,v,9)

The many things which are in the universe must refer back to one principle and this one principle contains everything within itself. The procession of all things from the One is a necessary procession; each level of reality proceeds necessarily from its superior as the first proceeds necessarily from the one. If we call this procession creation, a creation in time is excluded from the Plotinian universe; any priority and posteriority is based on nature rather than temporal sequence. In the beginning was everything, but everything is so structured that there is a first from which all things proceed, if only mediately. Thus, if Plotinus speaks of production and procession, it is an ontological dependence only that he wants to speak of; time has nothing to do with it and the processions are not results of acts of will. This is a sketch of the Plotinian universe:

The One is all things and no one of them; the source of all things is not all things; all things are its possession -- running back, so to speak, to it -- or, more correctly, not yet so, they will be. But a universe from an unbroken unity, in which there appears no diversity, nor even duality? It is precisely because that is nothing within the One that all things are from it: in order that Being may be brought about, the source must be no Being but Being's generator, in what is to be thought of as the primal act of generation. Seeking nothing, possessing nothing, lacking nothing, the One is perfect and, in our metaphor, has overflowed, and its exuberance has produced the new: this product has turned again to its begetter and been filled and has because its contemplator and so an Intellectual-Principle (Nous). That station towards the one (the fact that something exists in presence of the One) establishes Being; that vision directed upon the One to the end of vision, it is simultaneously Intellectual-Principle and Being; and, attaining resemblance in virtue of this vision, it repeats the act of the One in pouring forth a vast power. This second outflow is a Form or Idea representing the Divine Intellect as the Divine Intellect represented its own prior, the One. This active power sprung from essence (from the Intellectual-Principle considered as Being) is Soul. Soul arises as the idea and act of the motionless Intellectual-Principle -- which itself sprang from its own motionless prior -- but the soul's operation is not similarly motionless; its image is generated from its movement. It takes fullness by looking to its source; but it generates its image by adopting another, a downward, movement. This image of the Soul is Sense and Nature, the vegetal principle. Nothing however is completely severed from its prior. (V,ii,1)

We have here the three hypostases of Plotinus: the One, Nous and Soul. Elsewhere Plotinus speaks of them as light, sun and moon respectively. (V, vi, 4) Nous has received the light into its very essence, but above Nous must be that which gives the light. Soul has an essentially borrowed light. Plotinus argues for the exhaustiveness of these, arguing that there can be neither more nor less. (Cf. II, ix, 1). We must examine each of the hypostases in turn, Soul, Nous, One. We adopt this order because the philosophy of Plotinus is not merely the depiction of the hierarchy of the universe, but an exhortation to man to mount to the first principle.

Therefore, first let each become godlike and each beautiful who cares to see God and Beauty. So, mounting, the Soul will come first to the Intellectual-Principle and survey all the beautiful Ideas in the Supreme and will avow that this is Beauty, that the Ideas are Beauty . . . What is beyond the Intellectual-Principle we affirm to be the nature of Good radiating Beauty before it. (I,vi,9)

The Term at which we must arrive we may take as agreed: we have established elsewhere, by many considerations, that our journey is to the Good, the Primal-Principle; and indeed the very reasoning which discovered the Term was itself something like an initiation. (I,iii,1)

Soul. Soul occupies a middle position between Nous and the corporeal world; it is the reflection of the former and the organizer of the latter. As we have just seen, Plotinus is urging us to ascend to the first principle, something which would seem to involve a turning away from bodies; nevertheless, soul has a function relative to bodies. This introduces a kind of tension into the Plotinian conception of soul, although there is no doubt as to which region the soul itself belongs. "In that allocation we were distinguishing things as they fall under the intellectual or the sensible, and we placed the soul in the former class." (IV, ii, 1) It is because of its reference to body that the soul can be said to be divisible.

The nature at once divisible and indivisible, which we affirm to be the soul has not the unity of an extended thing: it does not consist of separate sections; its divisibility lies in its presence at every point of the recipient, but it is indivisible as dwelling entire in the total and entire in any part. (IV,ii,1)

Plotinus is not in agreement with Aristotle's teaching that the soul is the form or entelechy of the body. His arguments against this are not all on the same level. On the one hand, he says that if soul were so wedded to body as form to matter, sleep would be impossible, sleep being conceived as the soul's withdrawal upwards. On the other hand, Plotinus holds that the soul serves as a principle of organization for many bodies, though successively; consequently, it does not come to be with the coming into being of the living thing.

The substantial existence of the soul, then, does not depend upon serving as form to anything: it is an essence which does not come into being by finding a seat in body; it exists before it becomes the soul of some particular, for example, of a living being, whose body would by this doctrine be the author of its soul. (IV, vii, 8E)

The soul is essence or substance (ousia), the permanent, whereas body and generally the realm of the corporeal is process and change; the corporeal comes and goes and is not so much being as it participates in being, a capacity to participate in what authentically is, namely, the soul. The soul itself has a superior and inferior part, the former looking to Nous, the latter to matter which is formed in the image of the soul just as soul is an imitation proceeding from its superior, Nous.

If soul acts as a genus or species, the various (particular) souls must act as species. Their activities will be twofold: the activity upward is intellect; that which looks downwards constitutes the specifically different powers; the lowest activity of soul is in its contact with matter to which it brings form. (VI,ii,22)

Thus far what we have said would indicate that Plotinus wishes to speak of the human soul somewhat after the manner of Aristotle, though with disagreement as to the notion of soul as form of the living body. But soul, for Plotinus, is one of the three hypostases, and in his hierarchical universe "soul" has four meanings. There is first of all a transcendent soul, proximate to Nous, and, secondly, there is the soul of the visible world which, in its totality, is a living creature. The human soul parallels this division, there being a superior and inferior human soul. These notions bring us close to Plato, of course, but Plotinus is careful to point out that he does not subscribe to the alleged purport of the Philebus to the effect that particular souls are simply parts of the universal soul; the Timaeus makes it clear that other souls are of the same nature as the universal soul but distinct from it. (IV,iii,7) The suggestion is made that we form part of the cosmic order thanks to the inferior part of our soul, but transcend that order because of the superior part of the human soul which is destined for union with the first principle. Nevertheless, the plurality of souls is not a function of their union with bodies; the plurality pertains to the intelligible order itself.

The distinctive character of soul is not thought but ordering and governing. It is this which distinguishes soul from Nous and explains its progression from Nous.

There is the Nous which remains among the intellectual beings, living the purely intellective life; and this, knowing no impulse or appetite, is for ever stationary in that realm. But immediately following upon it, there is that which has acquired appetite, and, by this accruement, has already taken a great step outward; it has the desire of elaborating order on the model of what it has seen in the Nous: pregnant by those beings, and in pain to the birth, it is eager to make, to create. (IV,viii,13)

This passage will become clearer when we have examined the nature of Nous; for the moment, we can point out the kinship between the Plotinian soul and what Aristotle called the practical intellect. Soul for Plotinus looks outward, fashions matter to the image of what has been contemplated in Nous, the realm of what Plato called the Ideas or forms. Thus, the cosmic order is due to a world soul; organic bodies are due to particular souls. Soul, for Plotinus, is the source of providence.

We can see that Plotinus speaks of the downward movement of soul, its emanation from Nous and movement towards matter as organizing principle, as the natural function of the soul. And yet the soul is called to transcendence, to retracing the stages of procession and to reunion with the first principle. Thus, while perfectly natural, the soul's involvement with the corporeal constitutes a danger. What the human soul must do is to seek safety in a return to the universal soul; in union with the universal soul it can exercise governance without care or trouble. The body is not necessarily the prison of the soul, but it can become so if the soul should so concentrate on the particulars of this world as to become forgetful of its origin and destiny. But even in this fallen state there is hope.

But in spite of all it has, for ever, something transcendent: by a conversion towards the intellective act, it is loosed from the shackles and soars -- when only it makes its memories the starting point of a new vision of essential being. Souls that take this way have place in both spheres, living of necessity the life there and the life here by turns, the upper life reigning in those able to consort more continuously with the divine Intellect, the lower dominant where character or circumstances are less favorable. (IV,viii,5)

The soul by its very nature is divine, and evil must be looked upon as an accretion to the soul due to its commerce with the corporeal. Goodness is of the essence of the soul, evil is accidental and not constitutive. For Plotinus it is hardly necessary to argue that the soul is immortal; it is not constituted by its union with body, with the realm where mortality has meaning. It preexists this state and of itself is divine and eternal. The ontological status of the soul enables Plotinus to put the oracular dictum "Know thyself" to a use which epitomizes the ambiguity of his doctrine, a doctrine in which the religious and the speculative are inextricably commingled, where union with the One and knowledge of the structure of the universe are but two aspects of the same effort. For it is by reflecting on itself that the soul will discover the order of the universe and begin its ascent to the Father. The soul must recall that the world that lies before the eyes of the body has as its author another soul, that every wonderful thing in the cosmos has as its source soul: this recognition draws the soul towards knowledge of that universal soul.

That great soul must stand pictured before another soul, one not mean, a soul that has become worthy to look, emancipate from the lure, from all that binds its fellows in bewitchment, holding itself in quietude. Let not merely the enveloping body be at peace, body's turmoil stilled, but all that lies around, earth at peace, and sea at peace, and air and the very heavens. (V,i,2)

By contemplating the heavens and their orderly movements, we will become conscious of the living soul behind that order and harmony and the human soul will become conscious of its likeness to the engendering father of the cosmos. Thus, the awe induced by this ascent to the universal soul comes to be directed on one's own soul, which is of the same nature as the universal soul. Once ascent is made to the universal soul, the stage is set for the next step in the upward movement, for the universal soul, awesome and great as it is, is the sign of something greater beyond it, the Nous of which it is the image. As speech is an image of the reason within the soul, so is soul the utterance of Nous, indeed it is the activity of Nous as the procession from it. Having arrived thus at Nous, let us leave our preliminary sketch of Soul and turn to the higher hypostasis.

Nous. We have just seen Plotinus speak of the ascent of the human soul to Nous via the universal soul which is a procession from Nous and its image. Earlier we have seen Plotinus employ a metaphor of light according to which the Soul would be a moon, illuminated not by its own light but by that of the sun, the Nous. The Nous, if it is light in a more essential way than the Soul, has nevertheless received its light from a higher source. This indicates that Nous is at a midpoint between the other two hypostases and will lead us onward to the summit. This must be mentioned since, just as in speaking of Soul we had to make reference to Nous, any discussion of Nous requires reference to both other hypostases. A less metaphorical way of speaking of Nous is to call it beauty and thereby less than the good of which it is the image. The good is the One, that which is beyond and the primal principle, whereas Nous is its articulation into Ideas; the reference to the Republic is clear and intended. Nous is divine, is god though not the highest god, is the divine intellect in which resides the multiplicity of ideas and archetypes of the sensible world.

That archetypal world is the true Golden Age, age of Kronos, who is the Nous as being the offspring or exuberance of God. For here is contained all that is immortal: nothing here but is Divine Mind; all is God; this is the place of every soul. Here is rest unbroken; for how can that seek change, in which all is well; what need that reach to, which holds all within itself; what increase can that desire, which stands utterly achieved? All its content, thus, is perfect, that itself may be perfect throughout, as holding nothing that is less than the divine, nothing that is less than intellective. Its knowing is not by search but by possession, its blessedness inherent, not acquired; for all belongs to it eternally and it holds the authentic Eternity imitated by Time which, circling round the Soul, makes toward the new thing and passes by the old. Soul deals with thing after thing -- now Socrates; now a horse: always some one entity from among beings -- but the Nous is all and therefore its entire content is simultaneously present in that identity: this is pure being in eternal actuality; nowhere is there any future, for every then is a now; nor is there any past, for nothing there has ever ceased to be . . . (V,i,4)

Nous is identical with its objects; knower and known are one. This may seem to imply that to be is to be thought since Nous has been said to be being and now is said to be identical with what is thought. Nevertheless, Plotinus expressly rejects the view that to be is to be thought; he does this by asserting that Nous does not produce its objects; it contains them but, as with Plato, Ideas are not taken to be concepts.

If the Nous were envisaged as preceding Being, it would at once become a principle whose expression, its intellectual act, achieves and engenders the Beings: but, since we are compelled to think of existence as preceding that which knows it, we can but think that the Beings are the actual content of the knowing principle and that the very act, the intellection, is inherent to the Beings, as fire stands equipped from the beginning with fire-act; in this conception, the Beings contain the Nous as one and the same with themselves, as their own activity. Thus, Being is itself an activity: there is one activity, then, in both or, rather, both are one thing. (V,iv,8)

Plotinus attributes our difficulties on this score to the fact that we necessarily separate things which are one in our thinking of them. In somewhat the same way, the Nous as emanation from the One and as its image, introduces multiplicity in its very imitation, the variety of Ideas. Nevertheless, as compared to Soul and to the visible world, Nous must appear as highly unified and this is explained precisely by the fact that it is an imitation of the One itself. Looked at from below, however, in Nous the spatial discreteness and temporal succession of the visible world are done away with and there each thing is everything and everything is an "each," although each thing is the whole in a somewhat different way. Brehier{52} notes the similarity between such descriptions in Plotinus and the monadology of Leibnitz.

The Nous emerges as most ambiguous. It is the Platonic world of Ideas, the ground, law and guarantor of the things in the visible world; it is also that which contemplates these Ideas. But if Nous has as its function to contemplate its own content, to be a perfect union of thought and its object, it also is directed beyond and above itself.

Nous, thus, has two powers, first that of grasping intellectively its own content, the second that of advancing and receiving whereby to know its transcendent; at first it sees, later by that seeing it takes possession of Nous, becoming one only thing with that: the first seeing is that of Intellect knowing, the second that of Intellect loving; stripped of its wisdom in the intoxication of the nectar, it comes to love . . . (VI,vii,35)

Thus once more we see the way open to a further ascent.

It may be well to recall at this point the double aspect of the doctrine of the Enneads. We find discussed in an essentially interdependent fashion the structure of the world and the journey of the human soul back to the primary source of itself and the universe. Nous has proceeded from the One, which involves multiplicity; thus Nous is other than the One because it is an intelligible universe being the archetypes of the visible world and the ground for our moral and aesthetic judgments. Soul in turn proceeds from Nous and, unlike Nous, is ordered to govern not to contemplate. The human soul is a being in itself, possessing being prior to and thus apart from its union with a body; nevertheless it is the organizing principle of the body and this is natural to it and not evil in itself. Contact with the corporeal and the particular constitutes a danger, however, and the soul must withdraw within itself and, by knowing itself, know all that is. It must first arise to its higher sibling, the universal Soul which will inevitably lead it on to that of which the universal soul is but the image, namely Nous. Here too we seem to have the objective counterpart of a function of the human soul itself, intellect. Our intellect must learn to contemplate what Nous itself contemplates, the Ideas; in this way our minds become one with the divine mind although Nous is not the first but only the second god. As we have just seen, such contemplation leads to a further upward movement to that which is superior to Nous itself, the One or the Good.

The One. We must now attempt to sketch the most difficult aspect of the teaching of Plotinus, the summit and absolute source of being. Now, simply to call the One the source of being indicates the difficulties which face us; we have seen that Plotinus identifies Nous with being, for to be is to stand off from the One. The One, accordingly, would have to be said not to be. Plotinus does not flinch from this consequence. The One is beyond being as it is beyond knowledge; it is unknowable and ineffable. However, as will appear, Plotinus tends to speak of the One in an affirmative as well as a negative manner.

The One, then, is not Nous but something higher still: Nous is still a being but that First is no being but prior to all being: it cannot be a being, for a being has what we may call the form of its reality but the One is without form, even intellectual form. Generative of all, the One is none of all; neither thing nor quantity nor quality nor intellect nor soul; not in motion, nor at rest, not in place, not in time: it is the self-defined, unique in form or, better, formless, existing before form was, or movement or rest, all of which are attachments of being and make being the manifold it is. (VI,ix,3)

To speak of the One as a cause is not to say that something happens to it, but rather that something happens to other things. For the One to be a cause is not for it to change or to lose anything but for other things to gain by coming into being. But is not Plotinus caught up here in inextricable difficulties? To speak of the One seems to imply asserting that there is a One, that is, that something is One, an assertion which seemingly involves a multiplicity; what is One and the unity whereby it is so? Plotinus is aware of these difficulties. One is not a predicate of the One, nor is the One a numerical unity.

That awesome Prior, the One, is not a being, for so its unity would be vested in something else: strictly, no name is apt to it, but since name it we must there is a certain rough fitness in designating it as unity with the understanding that it is not the unity of some other thing. Thus it eludes our knowledge, so that the nearer approach to it is through its offspring. Being: we know it as cause of existence to Nous, as fount of all that is best, as the efficacy which, selfperduring and undiminishing, generates all beings and is not to be counted among these its derivatives, to all of which it must be prior. (VI,ix,5)

The best way to know the One is to know what we can know and thereby transcend through love and unknowing to the One. Plotinus is prepared as well to be faced with the paradox of his statements about the One which is said to be ineffable. To say the One is ineffable is thereby to make it effable, is it not? His reply is that speech about the One is not really about the One as if this first principle were grasped and being conveyed in language; his writings and talk urge us towards the One, they are an appeal to vision, a pointing of the path: "our teaching is of the road and the travelling; the seeing must be the very act of one that has made this choice." (VI,ix,4) Plotinus indicates the way by urging self-contemplation, that turning of the soul inward upon itself by which turning it will see that it is to this that its whole history points, that it is its very nature to turn toward its own center. The One is not the center of the Soul, but the center of the Soul is analogous to the One and provides a kind of bridge for the necessary transcendence towards the One.

The negative designation of the One can perhaps be best understood if we see the hypostases as objectifications of the spiritual life. The sensible world is to provide us with an occasion to rise to contemplation of the organizing principle of the cosmos, the universal soul; this in turn leads us onwards and upwards to Nous, which, as the realm of Ideas, is the objective correlative of our intellectual life, the life in which knower and known become one. In this scale, the One functions as the yonder or beyond what we can know: it is the ground ultimately of intelligiblity, unknowable in itself but drawing us towards it to a union which transcends the cognitive. From the point of view of the universe, this emphasis of Plotinus puts the One outside the universe of being although it is the cause of that universe. Any cognitive efforts to speak of the One must be in terms of finding analogies in what we do know, saying the One is like this or that, e.g. the center of a circle, while cautioning about the inability of our language to convey what transcends the capacity of our understanding. There is, however, another side of the doctrine of the One, a more positive side.{53}

Porphyry, in his life of Plotinus, tells us that the whole of the Metaphysics of Aristotle is to be found compressed in the Enneads. The significance of that remark is nowhere more evident than in certain statements about the One. First of all, there is the utter simplicity of the One.

In us the individual, viewed as body, is far from reality; by soul which especially constitutes being we are in reality, are in some degree real. This is a compound state, a mingling of Reality and Difference, not, therefore reality in the strictest sense, not reality pure . . . . But in That which is wholly what it is -- self-existing reality, without distinction between the total thing and its essence -- the being is a unit and sovran over itself; neither the being nor the essence is to be referred to any extern. (VI,viii,12)

Plotinus goes on to say that the One which is identical with its essence (ousia) is equally one with its actuality (energeia). We have here the other side of the coin: when the One is said not to be, the being denied of it is an imperfect being, one which involves duality and otherness and thus dependence on something beyond; but if the One is said not to be in an imperfect way, it is a most perfect being, is in the most perfect sense of the term. Plotinus is not of course contradicting himself here, since this notion of perfect being is formed on an analogy with the imperfect being we can know, the being which is known to be non-self-sufficient and dependent on something further which can thereby be indirectly described. The One is not-being in the sense that it cannot be like the beings we know; if it were, we would be involved in an infinite regress. However, to know what the One cannot be is to be able to formulate a statement descriptive of what it is, (a necessarily imperfect statement, because made by reference to something else) of the perfection of its being. Now there is a momentum to this approach which carries Plotinus on to admit activities of the One, but activities which are one with its substance. Thus, the One has will in the sense that it is will; (VI,viii, 13) it is good in the sense that it is goodness. (V,v,13) The One is not concerned at all with the things which emanate from it, a concern which Plotinus seems to feel would argue against its self-sufficiency and trascendence. Much the same thing can be said of Nous, of course, since governance and providence are assigned to the third hypostasis, Soul. And, to correct the possible import of a previous quotation, we must point out that Plotinus will say that the One is actuality (energeia) without being (ousia). (VI,viii,20) It is often pointed out that Plotinus has a tendency sometimes to speak of the One in the same way he speaks of Nous while at other times he sharply distinguishes between them. Various passages are extremely difficult to reconcile with one another and a certain impatience is justified. As a consistent theoretical doctrine, the Enneads leave much to be desired. But even to formulate this criticism is to indicate that one has lost touch with what is doubtless the most important aspect of Plotinus' upward journey. He does not promise us speculative accuracy; his many attempts to speak meaningfully of the One must always give way before what is the essential way to achieve contact with the first principle. This is not had by knowledge, but rather by presence (parousia).

The main part of the difficulty is that awareness of this Principle comes neither by knowing nor by the Intellection that discovers the Intelligible Beings but by a presence overpassing all knowledge. In knowing, soul or mind abandons its unity; it cannot remain a simplex: knowing is taking account of things; that accounting is multiple; the mind, thus plunging into number and multiplicity, departs from unity. Our way then takes us beyond knowing; there may be no wandering from unity; knowing and knowable must all be left aside; every object of thought, even the highest, we must pass by, for all that is good is later than This and derives from This as from the sun all the light of the day. (VI,ix,4)

The term of the teaching of Plotinus is the fulfillment of the spiritual life, the perfection of the individual; it does not seem too much to say that every theoretical statement is ultimately subordinated to enticing the soul upwards, beyond the theoretical to communion with the One, to that presence to the One in which our happiness consists. This term of the ascent of the spiritual life is not something remote and far off; the yonder or beyond is actually nearby and our distance from it is in function of our distance from our true self.

Thus the Supreme as containing no otherness is ever present with us; we with it when we put otherness away. It is not that the Supreme reaches out to us seeking our communion: we reach towards the Supreme; it is we that become present. We are always before it: but we do not always look . . . (VI,ix,8)

The World. The three hypostases, One, Nous and Soul give us the structure of the intelligible universe in which Nous proceeds necessarily from the One as its image, introducing a multiplicity expressed in the Platonic Ideas, a multiplicity which is nevertheless unified with respect to the next hypostasis, Soul, which emanates necessarily from Nous as its image. With the third hypostasis we have not yet reached the sensible world: this world proceeds from Soul, according to Plotinus, and it is to that aspect of his doctrine that we must now turn.

Something besides a unity there must be or all would be indiscernibly buried, shapeless within that unbroken whole: none of the real beings would exist if that unity remained at halt within itself: the plurality of these beings, offspring of the unity, could not exist without their own nexts taking the outward path; these are the beings holding the rank of souls. In the same way the outgoing process could not end with the souls, their issue stifled: every kind must produce its next; it must unfold from some concentrated central principle as from a seed, and so advance to its term in the varied forms of sense (IV,viii,6)

The universal soul, in its contemplation of Nous is filled with its object and overflows in an image. Soul as creative involves a secondary phase of the Soul, accordingly, and its production is something lower than itself. This creation by the Soul is not to be looked upon as a fall on its part, since it can create only if it ascends.

We assert its creative act to be a proof not of decline but rather of its steadfast hold. Its decline could consist only in its forgetting the Divine: but if it forgot, how could it create? Whence does it create but from the things it knew in the Divine? If it creates from the memory of that vision, it never fell. (II,ix,4)

Plotinus asserts that the production of the sensible world does not take place in time. Creation is an eternal process, coeval with the hypostases themselves. By the same token, the world is imperishable, being held together always by Soul.

And is it conceivable that the Soul, valid to sustain for a certain space of time, could not so sustain for ever? This would be to assume that it holds things together by violence; that there is a "natural course" at variance with what actually exists in the nature of the universe and in these exquisitely ordered beings; and that there is some power able to storm the established system and destroy its ordered coherence, some kingdom or dominion that may shatter the order founded by the Soul. (II,i,4)

We have seen that Soul produces the sensible world as a result of its primary activity which is contemplation; the lowest part of the soul responsible for this production is what Plotinus means by nature (physis). In keeping with his doctrine on the emanation of the hypostases, Plotinus does not intend that nature be a conscious production. "Nature, thus, does not know, it merely produces: what it holds it passes automatically to the next; and this transmission to the corporeal and material constitutes its making power." (IV,iv,13)

In the fourth tractate of the second Ennead, Plotinus discusses the notion of matter and decides that he must admit two kinds, sensible matter and intelligible matter. Thus, in the intelligible order where there are many ideal forms, these differ from one another precisely by the differences of their forms; nevertheless, such difference involves a similarity as well and Plotinus assigns this function to matter. This intelligible matter is the correlate of matter in the sensible world, but whereas the former has real being and life the latter does not, it is inert and lifeless. Opposed to the logos flowing from the creating soul or nature, which is a participation in light, matter is darkness and opacity. The argument leading to a recognition of matter is Aristotelian.

An additional proof that bodies must have some substratum different from themselves is found in the changing of the basic constituents into one another. Notice that the destruction of the elements passing over is not complete -- if it were we would have a Principle of Being wrecked in Non-Being -- nor does an engendered thing pass from utter non-being into Being: what happens is that a new form takes the place of an old. There is then a stable element, that which puts off one form to receive the form of the incoming entity. (II,iv,6)

This matter is utterly devoid of determination; moreover, the advent of form which is productive of body does not affect matter itself, and since form is the image and vehicle of the good, matter is other than good and unreachable by it. In a sense, then, matter is evil; its evil, however, is something negative so that evil is not set up as a positive being.

Man. Plato had maintained that man is his soul; Aristotle that man is a compound of soul and body. Plotinus agrees with Plato, but finds some justification for the Aristotelian view as well.

The soul of that order, the soul that has entered into matter of that order, is man by having, apart from body, a certain disposition; within body it shapes all to its own fashion, producing another form of man, man reduced to what body admits, just as an artist may make a reduced image of that again. (VI,vii,5)

There is a way of considering man apart from body, then, "man yonder" or "man beyond" who differs from man here, man in the body, in this, that the latter is characterized by discursive thinking while man yonder, residing in Nous as ideal, has the characteristic of its abode, namely intuitive thought. (VI,vii,9) Man in the sense of soul has pre-existed man in the body and once in the body it is his divine origin which is the keynote of his goodness: as long as he remains in contact with it, strives towards it, man is good; evil will be the turning away from that origin, concern with things below. Looking at man below, in the body, it is his capacity for returning whence he came, his higher soul, which is his true self. Bodily passions are not states of the soul which use the body as their instrument; the soul itself is impassible. This produces a difficulty with respect to sense perception.

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 which is nearer to authentic existence as being an impassive reading of ideal forms. (I,i,7)

The authentic self remains independent of its involvement in body and its knowledge is not to be reduced to states of the body. True knowledge will consist in transcending the body and its passions and here the homogeneity of human soul and universal soul, human intellect and divine intellect or Nous will be the explanation of knowledge. Evil is possible because of the lower side of the soul.

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 judgment of the reasoning principle: we have acted at the call of the less worthy, just as in matters of the sense-sphere we sometimes see falsely because we credit the lower perception, that of the couplement (of soul and body) without applying the tests of the reasoning faculty. (I,i,9)

The curious thing about this ascription of evil to the lower, less authentic part, is that the soul itself, what is really man, remains guiltless. It is nonetheless true that man sins and must make recompense for it.

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. (I,i,12)

Soul as never subjected to body -- even the lower part of the soul being other than and above matter -- retains a freedom from the causes which govern the bodies of the sensible universe. The soul is not changed by its surroundings; rather the noble soul will change its surroundings or, where this is impossible, soul can retain its innocence. (III,i,8) Plotinus can accept the view that the course of the sensible world is necessitated by the sidereal movements and at the same time insist on the freedom of man. Indeed, Plotinus has a tendency to identify moral evil and involuntariness.

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 and highest laws of action. (III,i,9)

Virtue, for Plotinus, is that state of soul which is devotion to its like; just as evil results from frequenting things unlike and below it. Virtue, therefore, while it does not consist in purgation or catharsis, is consequent upon it. There will be a gradation of virtue insofar as the hierarchy within the soul reflects the objective hierarchy of hypostases; this upward path is trod by the use of dialectic. The whole of philosophy is ordered to getting the soul to retrace the path to its ultimate origin, the first principle, the ineffable One, which is attained in a spiritual union which is beyond doctrine and communicable thought. Virtue will describe way-stations on this route, necessary states of the soul as it turns inward, away from the distractions of otherness, and finds within the correlate of the transcendent and its own destiny as union with the One, the supreme God.

Summary. If the Plotinian doctrine begins with God, the One, this is because that is the term of human striving. From the One proceeds the realm of Ideas, Nous, and from these proceeds the governing and organizing principle of the material world. The sensible world itself is the ultimate product of emanation and although Plotinus speaks of matter as evil, he refuses the Gnostic claim that this world is itself evil. For one thing, the sensible world is more than matter; it has logos in it, form, an image even though remote of the good. The sensible world is good and beautiful, not so much in itself, as because it particpates in goodness and beauty. This makes it a sign of the beyond, a token of where we must go. For man, to become aware of the goodness of the world is to be impelled to transcend it towards its governing principle and this in turn impels towards the Ideas, Nous, the realm of law and ideal forms. Here knowledge is intuitive, one becomes like what he knows, but in this knowledge becomes aware of the beyond, of that which is greater than the ideas, of a possession which is more noble than intellectual knowledge. Love now becomes the guideline and the union which is its term cannot be communicated as a philosophical doctrine. Plotinus can only hint and urge; he becomes thereby a spiritual director, his sayings a catalyst which may bring about union. It is impossible to separate Plotinus' theoretical descriptions of the intelligible universe from his overriding concern with the spiritual life; the doctrine of hypostases, the story of the formation of the sensible world, all function in getting man to see his destiny. In achieving his aims, Plotinus is at pains to take into account the doctrine of earlier philosophers. It is not difficult to see that the principal goal of his teaching singles out an important aspect of Plato and subjects everything else to it; at the same time, he incorporates much of Aristotle, particularly from the Metaphysics and the De Anima. His admission of providence indicates a deference to the Stoics, but for Plotinus providence cannot mean the conscious concern of the higher for the lower; rather it is a way of recognizing the necessary impact of the higher on the lower. So Plotinus can admit the causality of the sensible world and at the same time argue for man's transcendence of that world, thus preserving human freedom. It may be said that Plotinus represents the culmination of Greek philosophy precisely by showing the inadequacy of philosophy just as such, as an intellectual effort alone. Philosophy at its best makes us aware of something utterly beyond the sensible world, beyond the best efforts of our intellect. In Plotinus this calls for an effort on man's part to go through philosophy to this recognition and then by means of love and ecstacy to go beyond philosophy to union with that primal principle of all things. But, if this is to go beyond philosophy as intellectual exercise, it is to rejoin the notion that philosophy is a way of life, man's way of achieving his perfection. It is noteworthy that Plotinus' recognition of the primacy of the spiritual life does not lead to a repudiation of the intellectual, or to the degenerate attempt to achieve ecstacy by a return to the primitive: revival of the primitive, the sophisticated attempt to rid oneself of sophistication, is always less innocent than the primitive itself. For Plotinus the route to ecstacy and union with the One leads through philosophy as an indispensable element. This serves as a brake on the willed irrational and the Enneads present one of the noblest natural attempts to cope with the demands of man as spiritual being.

C. After Plotinus

Of the pupils of Plotinus, Amelius may be mentioned, but Porphyry of Tyre (born 232/3 A.D.) is far and away the most important. We have already seen that he was with Plotinus in Rome for six years and was responsible for arranging the writings of his master in the form of the Enneads. Porphyry is credited with having written a great number of works, notable among them being his Isagoge, an introduction to the Categories of Aristotle. This work discusses the five universals or predicables, knowledge of which is presupposed to an understanding of the Aristotelian logical work. Porphyry excuses himself from undertaking a resolution of the controversy between Plato and Aristotle on the ontological status of universals, a modest withdrawal from controversy which was destined to provide an occasion to take up just that controversy not only for Boethius when he commented on the Isagoge but far into the Middle Ages, long after contact with the literary context of the dispute had been lost.

Since it is necessary, Chrysaorius, both to the doctrine of Aristotle's Categories, to know what genus, difference, species, property and accident are and also to the assignments of definitions, in short, since the investigation of these is useful for those things which belong to division and demonstration, I will endeavor by a summary briefly to discuss for you, as in the form of introduction, what in this subject has been delivered by the ancients, abstaining, indeed, from more profound questions, yet directing attention in a fitting manner, to such as are more simple. For instance, I shall omit to speak about genera and species, as to whether they subsist (in the nature of things) or in mere conceptions only; whether also if subsistent, they are bodies or incorporeal, and whether they are separate from or in is most profound and requires another more extensive investigation. (Porphyry, Isagoge, chap.1)

Porphyry goes on to discuss five universals, genus, species, property, difference and accident, their respective natures and the interrelationships between them. Porphyry is also said to have written two commentaries on the Categories themselves, a significant fact since Plotinus had rejected the Aristotelian categories in favor of those to be found in the Sophist of Plato. He is also said to have written commentaries on Plato, e.g., on the Timaeus. Fifteen books written against the Christians have been lost, although a few fragments are extant. There has been some discussion of the possibility that Porphyry was an apostate Christian, but it seems to be a moot point.

Aside from the immediate school of Plotinus, it is customary to speak of later Neoplatonists in terms of schools associated with particular geographical areas. Thus Iamblichus who died about 330 A.D. is the most important member of what is called the Syrian school. He is looked upon as one who discounted the Plotinian doctrine that the way to ecstacy was through theory and sought it rather by means of theurgy, occultism and magic. Iamblichus describes himself as a Pythagorean and considers mathematics as a preparation for knowledge of the gods, a doctrine that casts some doubt on the belief that he emphasized theurgy. Certain mathematical works of Iamblichus have come down to us, a work On General Mathematical Science and an Introduction to the Arithmetic of Nicomachus; a third mathematical work, often attributed to him, is now thought not to be his. Iamblichus considered the doctrine of Pythagoras to be a gift of the gods and thought divine grace necessary to comprehend it; he advocated the use of the mathematical method in philosophy. In reference to Plotinus, Iamblichus tends to elaborate the doctrine of emanation by positing intermediate stages between the three Plotinian hypostases.

The School of Pergamon, an offshoot of that of Iamblichus, is noteworthy for its attempt to bring back polytheism because it influenced the Emperor Julian who had been brought up a Christian but during a brief reign was a fierce opponent of Christianity and defender of the traditional polytheism.

The School of Athens produced several commentaries on Aristotle, e.g., a commentary on the De Anima by Plutarch of Athens and on the Metaphysics by Syrianus: both men died towards the middle of the fifth century of our era. Proclus, born in Constantinople in 410, studied with Olympiodorus at Alexandria and then came to Athens where he studied under Plutarch and Syrianus, suceeding the latter to the headship of the school. A number of his writings have come down to us, commentaries on Alcibiades I, Parmenides, Republic and the Cratylus among them. As well, we have his works on Plato's theology, on providence and evil and his famous Elements of Theology. There is also an Elements of Physics. The Elements of Theology were destined to have a great impact on the Arabians and in the Latin XVest, particularly because much of it appeared in the work known as the Liber de causis until St. Thomas Aquinas pointed out its origin in Proclus. The literary form of both Elements of Proclus consists in setting forth a proposition and following it with a proof. The one on physics is based largely on Aristotle; it is the Elements of Theology which give us a characteristically Neoplatonic doctrine.

If we concentrate on the Elements of Theology, it must be pointed out that the form, and to a great degree the contents of this work, present a difficulty of no little moment when compared to Proclus' commentaries on Plato and his work on the theology of Plato. Proclus, in common with Iamblichus and Syrianus, under whom Proclus studied, opts strongly for the theurgy side of the dichotomy theoria / theourgia. Iamblichus differs from Plotinus in maintaining that union with the One is not attained through knowledge and speculation, but rather through a ritualistic magic, by being taking possession of by the divine. The Chaldean Oracles thereby become a sacred book to be interpreted and even the Platonic dialogues are studied for symbolic intent and hints of magic formulae. We must remember that Proclus believed in mermaids and dragons, automotive statues, the man in the moon and a whole raft of astral gods. Against this background the severe literary form of the Elements is almost a shock. If it does not represent a good deal of material original with its author, it is nonetheless a sustained attempt at a rigorous and austere formulation of the processions of Neoplatonism as it had been developed in the wake of Plotinus.

The Elements of Theology consists of 211 propositions each of which is followed by what purports to be a proof of it. The procedure is not one of citing authorities, then, (though the sources of the propositions and the proofs can be found), but an argued presentation of the great synthesis of reality as it moves out from its ultimate principle according to the familiar Plotinian triad: One, Process, Return. Dodds{54} suggests that the Elements contains two main sections.

The first of these (props. 1 to 112) introduces successively the general metaphysical antitheses with which Neoplatonism operated -- unity and plurality, cause and consequent, the unmoved, the self-moved and the passively mobile, transcendence and immanence, declension and continuity, procession and reversion, causa sui and causatum, eternity and time, substance and reflection, whole and part, active and passive potency, limit and infinitude, being, life and cognition. The remaining part (props. 113-211) expounds in the light of these antitheses the relations obtaining within each of the three great orders of spiritual substance, gods or henads, intelligences, and souls; and the relations connecting each of these orders with the lower grades of reality.

If we consider the opening propositions of part one, we shall be able to say something about the doctrine contained in part two of the Elements.

At the very outset, Proclus wants to establish the absolute priority of the One. His first proposition is: "Every manifold participates unity in some way." The proof is by dichotomy and reductio. Let us take the opposite possibility, a manifold which in no way participates unity; it will thus not be one whole nor can its parts be ones. For the part must be either one or not one; and if not one then either many or nothing; if the part is nothing, the whole is nothing; if many, we are embarking on an infinite regress. And, since nothing can be made up of an infinity of infinites we must accept the original proposition that the manifold in some way participates unity. Proclus goes on to argue that what participates unity is not unity itself; therefore it must be something else besides the unity it participates. Having shown that the manifold must be logically posterior to the One, Proclus asserts (prop. 6) "Every manifold is composed either of unified groups or of henads or units." We have already noticed that Iamblichus had felt constrained to introduce another One between the Ineffable One and Nous. It is characteristic of later Neoplatonism that it tends to multiply the strata of the intelligible universe beyond the three hypostases of Plotinus. One great motivation for this was the desire to achieve a gradual shading off into the sensible world and thereby mask a difficulty of which Plotinus himself had been aware: how do you get multiplicity from unity unless the one is already in some sense many? Proclus' notion of henads or units as what first proceeds from the One amounts to a population increase in the area of Iamblichus' intermediate one. Moreover, Proclus has no hesitation in identifying these henads with the gods of Greek mythology.

This proliferation continues in the realm of Nous, in which sphere of Being, Life and Thought are first distinguished and then each sphere subdivided; the realm of Soul becomes quite densely populated. As for the sensible world, it is formed and looked after by Soul but, as with Plotinus, it is as if matter is there awaiting this formation and is not taken to proceed from the higher order. Of course, the processions described are not the history of the universe in any chronological sense: Proclus, like Plotinus, is describing logical priority and posteriority. From that point of view, the notion of matter, formless and chaotic, "awaiting" determination and governance is not a problem for Neoplatonism. What remains the problem is the initial emergence of multiplicity from the One, and later Neoplatonism seems in effect to be attempting to obscure this difficulty by filling in the interstices of the intelligible universe of Plotinus with more and more grades -- as if one could construct a line from points.

Proclus was succeeded as head of the school of Athens by his student Marinus who wrote a life of Proclus. The last of the heads of this school was Damascius. We have a work of his dealing with difficulties and their solutions concerning the first principles occasioned by the Parmenides of Plato. Damascius insists on the utter transcendence of the first principle: it is beyond our language and our understanding. All the talk about processions is but a groping way to speak of what is, after all, quite beyond our grasp. A student of Damascius was Simplicius, the author of several very important commentaries on Aristotle, e.g., on the Categories, Physics, De Coelo and De Anima. The reader will remember, from Part One above, the importance of Simplicius' commentary on the Physics from the point of view of Presocratic fragments. In 529 A.D. the Emperor Justinian closed the school at Athens; Simplicius and Damascius, upon the invitation of the Persian king, went to Persia around 531. They rereturned a year or two later but Athens' long history as the capitol city of philosophy had come to an end.

The Alexandrian school is particularly important, not only for its commentaries on Plato and Aristotle, but also because we find there a sustained proximity with Christianity and the evolution of something like a modus vivendi between philosophy and religion; indeed, we see at Alexandria the entry of a number of philosophers into the Church. The commentators who may be mentioned are Ammonius, Johannes Philoponus and Olympiodorus. Since these men bring us into the sixth century of our era and some of them make an attempt to reconcile philosophy and the Christian Revelation, discussion of them must be posponed till volume two of this series. When one consideres that Johannes Philoponus, a Christian living after Augustine, in his commentaries on Aristotle is anticipating some of the debates of the thirteenth century, it will be appreciated that it is difficult to place him among the ancient philosophers.

{51} H. A. Wolfson, Philo, vol. I (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1948), p. 94.

{52} E. Brehier, The Philosophy of Plotinus (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958)

{53} See A. H. Armstrong, The Architecture of the Intelligible Universe in the Philosophy of Plotinus (Cambiidge, England: University Press, 1940).

{54} E. R. Dodds, Proclus, The Elements of Theology (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1933).

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