The Six Enneads, by Plotinus

Fifth Tractate.

Happiness and Extension of Time.

1. Is it possible to think that Happiness increases with Time, Happiness which is always taken as a present thing?

The memory of former felicity may surely be ruled out of count, for Happiness is not a thing of words, but a definite condition which must be actually present like the very fact and act of life.

2. It may be objected that our will towards living and towards expressive activity is constant, and that each attainment of such expression is an increase in Happiness.

But in the first place, by this reckoning every to-morrow’s well-being will be greater than to-day’s, every later instalment successively larger that an earlier; at once time supplants moral excellence as the measure of felicity.

Then again the Gods to-day must be happier than of old: and their bliss, too, is not perfect, will never be perfect. Further, when the will attains what it was seeking, it attains something present: the quest is always for something to be actually present until a standing felicity is definitely achieved. The will to life which is will to Existence aims at something present, since Existence must be a stably present thing. Even when the act of the will is directed towards the future, and the furthest future, its object is an actually present having and being: there is no concern about what is passed or to come: the future state a man seeks is to be a now to him; he does not care about the forever: he asks that an actual present be actually present.

3. Yes, but if the well-being has lasted a long time, if that present spectacle has been a longer time before the eyes?

If in the greater length of time the man has seen more deeply, time has certainly done something for him, but if all the process has brought him no further vision, then one glance would give all he has had.

4. Still the one life has known pleasure longer than the other?

But pleasure cannot be fairly reckoned in with Happiness — unless indeed by pleasure is meant the unhindered Act [of the true man], in which case this pleasure is simply our “Happiness.” And even pleasure, though it exist continuously, has never anything but the present; its past is over and done with.

5. We are asked to believe, then, it will be objected, that if one man has been happy from first to last, another only at the last, and a third, beginning with happiness, has lost it, their shares are equal?

This is straying from the question: we were comparing the happy among themselves: now we are asked to compare the not-happy at the time when they are out of happiness with those in actual possession of happiness. If these last are better off, they are so as men in possession of happiness against men without it and their advantage is always by something in the present.

6. Well, but take the unhappy man: must not increase of time bring an increase of his unhappiness? Do not all troubles — long-lasting pains, sorrows, and everything of that type — yield a greater sum of misery in the longer time? And if thus in misery the evil is augmented by time why should not time equally augment happiness when all is well?

In the matter of sorrows and pains there is, no doubt, ground for saying that time brings increase: for example, in a lingering malady the evil hardens into a state, and as time goes on the body is brought lower and lower. But if the constitution did not deteriorate, if the mischief grew no worse, then, here too, there would be no trouble but that of the present moment: we cannot tell the past into the tale of unhappiness except in the sense that it has gone to make up an actually existing state — in the sense that, the evil in the sufferer’s condition having been extended over a longer time, the mischief has gained ground. The increase of ill-being then is due to the aggravation of the malady not to the extension of time.

It may be pointed out also that this greater length of time is not a thing existent at any given moment; and surely a “more” is not to be made out by adding to something actually present something that has passed away.

No: true happiness is not vague and fluid: it is an unchanging state.

If there is in this matter any increase besides that of mere time, it is in the sense that a greater happiness is the reward of a higher virtue: this is not counting up to the credit of happiness the years of its continuance; it is simply noting the high-water mark once for all attained.

7. But if we are to consider only the present and may not call in the past to make the total, why do we not reckon so in the case of time itself, where, in fact, we do not hesitate to add the past to the present and call the total greater? Why not suppose a quantity of happiness equivalent to a quantity of time? This would be no more than taking it lap by lap to correspond with time-laps instead of choosing to consider it as an indivisible, measurable only by the content of a given instant.

There is no absurdity in taking count of time which has ceased to be: we are merely counting what is past and finished, as we might count the dead: but to treat past happiness as actually existent and as outweighing present happiness, that is an absurdity. For Happiness must be an achieved and existent state, whereas any time over and apart from the present is nonexistent: all progress of time means the extinction of all the time that has been.

Hence time is aptly described as a mimic of eternity that seeks to break up in its fragmentary flight the permanence of its exemplar. Thus whatever time seizes and seals to itself of what stands permanent in eternity is annihilated — saved only in so far as in some degree it still belongs to eternity, but wholly destroyed if it be unreservedly absorbed into time.

If Happiness demands the possession of the good of life, it clearly has to do with the life of Authentic-Existence for that life is the Best. Now the life of Authentic-Existence is measurable not by time but by eternity; and eternity is not a more or a less or a thing of any magnitude but is the unchangeable, the indivisible, is timeless Being.

We must not muddle together Being and Non-Being, time and eternity, not even everlasting time with the eternal; we cannot make laps and stages of an absolute unity; all must be taken together, wheresoever and howsoever we handle it; and it must be taken at that, not even as an undivided block of time but as the Life of Eternity, a stretch not made up of periods but completely rounded, outside of all notion of time.

8. It may be urged that the actual presence of past experiences, kept present by Memory, gives the advantage to the man of the longer felicity.

But, Memory of what sort of experiences?

Memory either of formerly attained wisdom and virtue — in which case we have a better man and the argument from memory is given up — or memory of past pleasures, as if the man that has arrived at felicity must roam far and wide in search of gratifications and is not contented by the bliss actually within him.

And what is there pleasant in the memory of pleasure? What is it to recall yesterday’s excellent dinner? Still more ridiculous, one of ten years ago. So, too, of last year’s morality.

9. But is there not something to be said for the memory of the various forms of beauty?

That is the resource of a man whose life is without beauty in the present, so that, for lack of it now, he grasps at the memory of what has been.

10. But, it may be said, length of time produces an abundance of good actions missed by the man whose attainment of the happy state is recent — if indeed we can think at all of a state of happiness where good actions have been few.

Now to make multiplicity, whether in time or in action, essential to Happiness is to put it together by combining non-existents, represented by the past, with some one thing that actually is. This consideration it was that led us at the very beginning to place Happiness in the actually existent and on that basis to launch our enquiry as to whether the higher degree was determined by the longer time. It might be thought that the Happiness of longer date must surpass the shorter by virtue of the greater number of acts it included.

But, to begin with, men quite outside of the active life may attain the state of felicity, and not in a less but in a greater degree than men of affairs.

Secondly, the good does not derive from the act itself but from the inner disposition which prompts the noble conduct: the wise and good man in his very action harvests the good not by what he does but by what he is.

A wicked man no less than a Sage may save the country, and the good of the act is for all alike, no matter whose was the saving hand. The contentment of the Sage does not hang upon such actions and events: it is his own inner habit that creates at once his felicity and whatever pleasure may accompany it.

To put Happiness in actions is to put it in things that are outside virtue and outside the Soul; for the Soul’s expression is not in action but in wisdom, in a contemplative operation within itself; and this, this alone, is Happiness.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 16:24