The Six Enneads, by Plotinus

Second Tractate.

On Providence (1).

1. To make the existence and coherent structure of this Universe depend upon automatic activity and upon chance is against all good sense.

Such a notion could be entertained only where there is neither intelligence nor even ordinary perception; and reason enough has been urged against it, though none is really necessary.

But there is still the question as to the process by which the individual things of this sphere have come into being, how they were made.

Some of them seem so undesirable as to cast doubts upon a Universal Providence; and we find, on the one hand, the denial of any controlling power, on the other the belief that the Kosmos is the work of an evil creator.

This matter must be examined through and through from the very first principles. We may, however, omit for the present any consideration of the particular providence, that beforehand decision which accomplishes or holds things in abeyance to some good purpose and gives or withholds in our own regard: when we have established the Universal Providence which we affirm, we can link the secondary with it.

Of course the belief that after a certain lapse of time a Kosmos previously non-existent came into being would imply a foreseeing and a reasoned plan on the part of God providing for the production of the Universe and securing all possible perfection in it — a guidance and partial providence, therefore, such as is indicated. But since we hold the eternal existence of the Universe, the utter absence of a beginning to it, we are forced, in sound and sequent reasoning, to explain the providence ruling in the Universe as a universal consonance with the divine Intelligence to which the Kosmos is subsequent not in time but in the fact of derivation, in the fact that the Divine Intelligence, preceding it in Kind, is its cause as being the Archetype and Model which it merely images, the primal by which, from all eternity, it has its existence and subsistence.

The relationship may be presented thus:

The authentic and primal Kosmos is the Being of the Intellectual Principle and of the Veritable Existent. This contains within itself no spatial distinction, and has none of the feebleness of division, and even its parts bring no incompleteness to it since here the individual is not severed from the entire. In this Nature inheres all life and all intellect, a life living and having intellection as one act within a unity: every part that it gives forth is a whole; all its content is its very own, for there is here no separation of thing from thing, no part standing in isolated existence estranged from the rest, and therefore nowhere is there any wronging of any other, any opposition. Everywhere one and complete, it is at rest throughout and shows difference at no point; it does not make over any of its content into any new form; there can be no reason for changing what is everywhere perfect.

Why should Reason elaborate yet another Reason, or Intelligence another Intelligence? An indwelling power of making things is in the character of a being not at all points as it should be but making, moving, by reason of some failure in quality. Those whose nature is all blessedness have no more to do than to repose in themselves and be their being.

A widespread activity is dangerous to those who must go out from themselves to act. But such is the blessedness of this Being that in its very non-action it magnificently operates and in its self-dwelling it produces mightily.

2. By derivation from that Authentic Kosmos, one within itself, there subsists this lower kosmos, no longer a true unity.

It is multiple, divided into various elements, thing standing apart from thing in a new estrangement. No longer is there concord unbroken; hostility, too, has entered as the result of difference and distance; imperfection has inevitably introduced discord; for a part is not self-sufficient, it must pursue something outside itself for its fulfillment, and so it becomes the enemy to what it needs.

This Kosmos of parts has come into being not as the result of a judgement establishing its desirability, but by the sheer necessity of a secondary Kind.

The Intellectual Realm was not of a nature to be the ultimate of existents. It was the First and it held great power, all there is of power; this means that it is productive without seeking to produce; for if effort and search were incumbent upon it, the Act would not be its own, would not spring from its essential nature; it would be, like a craftsman, producing by a power not inherent but acquired, mastered by dint of study.

The Intellectual Principle, then, in its unperturbed serenity has brought the universe into being, by communicating from its own store to Matter: and this gift is the Reason-Form flowing from it. For the Emanation of the Intellectual Principle is Reason, an emanation unfailing as long as the Intellectual Principle continues to have place among beings.

The Reason-Principle within a seed contains all the parts and qualities concentrated in identity; there is no distinction, no jarring, no internal hindering; then there comes a pushing out into bulk, part rises in distinction with part, and at once the members of the organism stand in each other’s way and begin to wear each other down.

So from this, the One Intellectual Principle, and the Reason-Form emanating from it, our Universe rises and develops part, and inevitably are formed groups concordant and helpful in contrast with groups discordant and combative; sometimes of choice and sometimes incidentally, the parts maltreat each other; engendering proceeds by destruction.

Yet: Amid all that they effect and accept, the divine Realm imposes the one harmonious act; each utters its own voice, but all is brought into accord, into an ordered system, for the universal purpose, by the ruling Reason-Principle. This Universe is not Intelligence and Reason, like the Supernal, but participant in Intelligence and Reason: it stands in need of the harmonizing because it is the meeting ground of Necessity and divine Reason-Necessity pulling towards the lower, towards the unreason which is its own characteristic, while yet the Intellectual Principle remains sovereign over it.

The Intellectual Sphere [the Divine] alone is Reason, and there can never be another Sphere that is Reason and nothing else; so that, given some other system, it cannot be as noble as that first; it cannot be Reason: yet since such a system cannot be merely Matter, which is the utterly unordered, it must be a mixed thing. Its two extremes are Matter and the Divine Reason; its governing principle is Soul, presiding over the conjunction of the two, and to be thought of not as labouring in the task but as administering serenely by little more than an act of presence.

3. Nor would it be sound to condemn this Kosmos as less than beautiful, as less than the noblest possible in the corporeal; and neither can any charge be laid against its source.

The world, we must reflect, is a product of Necessity, not of deliberate purpose: it is due to a higher Kind engendering in its own likeness by a natural process. And none the less, a second consideration, if a considered plan brought it into being it would still be no disgrace to its maker — for it stands a stately whole, complete within itself, serving at once its own purpose and that of all its parts which, leading and lesser alike, are of such a nature as to further the interests of the total. It is, therefore, impossible to condemn the whole on the merits of the parts which, besides, must be judged only as they enter harmoniously or not into the whole, the main consideration, quite overpassing the members which thus cease to have importance. To linger about the parts is to condemn not the Kosmos but some isolated appendage of it; in the entire living Being we fasten our eyes on a hair or a toe neglecting the marvellous spectacle of the complete Man; we ignore all the tribes and kinds of animals except for the meanest; we pass over an entire race, humanity, and bring forward — Thersites.

No: this thing that has come into Being is the Kosmos complete: do but survey it, and surely this is the pleading you will hear:

I am made by a God: from that God I came perfect above all forms of life, adequate to my function, self-sufficing, lacking nothing: for I am the container of all, that is, of every plant and every animal, of all the Kinds of created things, and many Gods and nations of Spirit-Beings and lofty souls and men happy in their goodness.

And do not think that, while earth is ornate with all its growths and with living things of every race, and while the very sea has answered to the power of Soul, do not think that the great air and the ether and the far-spread heavens remain void of it: there it is that all good Souls dwell, infusing life into the stars and into that orderly eternal circuit of the heavens which in its conscious movement ever about the one Centre, seeking nothing beyond, is a faithful copy of the divine Mind. And all that is within me strives towards the Good; and each, to the measure of its faculty, attains. For from that Good all the heavens depend, with all my own Soul and the Gods that dwell in my every part, and all that lives and grows, and even all in me that you may judge inanimate.

But there are degrees of participation: here no more than Existence, elsewhere Life; and, in Life, sometimes mainly that of Sensation, higher again that of Reason, finally Life in all its fullness. We have no right to demand equal powers in the unequal: the finger is not to be asked to see; there is the eye for that; a finger has its own business — to be finger and have finger power.

4. That water extinguishes fire and fire consumes other things should not astonish us. The thing destroyed derived its being from outside itself: this is no case of a self-originating substance being annihilated by an external; it rose on the ruin of something else, and thus in its own ruin it suffers nothing strange; and for every fire quenched, another is kindled.

In the immaterial heaven every member is unchangeably itself for ever; in the heavens of our universe, while the whole has life eternally and so too all the nobler and lordlier components, the Souls pass from body to body entering into varied forms — and, when it may, a Soul will rise outside of the realm of birth and dwell with the one Soul of all. For the embodied lives by virtue of a Form or Idea: individual or partial things exist by virtue of Universals; from these priors they derive their life and maintenance, for life here is a thing of change; only in that prior realm is it unmoving. From that unchangingness, change had to emerge, and from that self-cloistered Life its derivative, this which breathes and stirs, the respiration of the still life of the divine.

The conflict and destruction that reign among living beings are inevitable, since things here are derived, brought into existence because the Divine Reason which contains all of them in the upper Heavens — how could they come here unless they were There? — must outflow over the whole extent of Matter.

Similarly, the very wronging of man by man may be derived from an effort towards the Good; foiled, in their weakness, of their true desire, they turn against each other: still, when they do wrong, they pay the penalty — that of having hurt their Souls by their evil conduct and of degradation to a lower place — for nothing can ever escape what stands decreed in the law of the Universe.

This is not to accept the idea, sometimes urged, that order is an outcome of disorder and law of lawlessness, as if evil were a necessary preliminary to their existence or their manifestation: on the contrary order is the original and enters this sphere as imposed from without: it is because order, law and reason exist that there can be disorder; breach of law and unreason exist because Reason exists — not that these better things are directly the causes of the bad but simply that what ought to absorb the Best is prevented by its own nature, or by some accident, or by foreign interference. An entity which must look outside itself for a law, may be foiled of its purpose by either an internal or an external cause; there will be some flaw in its own nature, or it will be hurt by some alien influence, for often harm follows, unintended, upon the action of others in the pursuit of quite unrelated aims. Such living beings, on the other hand, as have freedom of motion under their own will sometimes take the right turn, sometimes the wrong.

Why the wrong course is followed is scarcely worth enquiring: a slight deviation at the beginning develops with every advance into a continuously wider and graver error — especially since there is the attached body with its inevitable concomitant of desire — and the first step, the hasty movement not previously considered and not immediately corrected, ends by establishing a set habit where there was at first only a fall.

Punishment naturally follows: there is no injustice in a man suffering what belongs to the condition in which he is; nor can we ask to be happy when our actions have not earned us happiness; the good, only, are happy; divine beings are happy only because they are good.

5. Now, once Happiness is possible at all to Souls in this Universe, if some fail of it, the blame must fall not upon the place but upon the feebleness insufficient to the staunch combat in the one arena where the rewards of excellence are offered. Men are not born divine; what wonder that they do not enjoy a divine life. And poverty and sickness mean nothing to the good — only to the evil are they disastrous — and where there is body there must be ill health.

Besides, these accidents are not without their service in the co-ordination and completion of the Universal system.

One thing perishes, and the Kosmic Reason — whose control nothing anywhere eludes — employs that ending to the beginning of something new; and, so, when the body suffers and the Soul, under the affliction, loses power, all that has been bound under illness and evil is brought into a new set of relations, into another class or order. Some of these troubles are helpful to the very sufferers — poverty and sickness, for example — and as for vice, even this brings something to the general service: it acts as a lesson in right doing, and, in many ways even, produces good; thus, by setting men face to face with the ways and consequences of iniquity, it calls them from lethargy, stirs the deeper mind and sets the understanding to work; by the contrast of the evil under which wrong-doers labour it displays the worth of the right. Not that evil exists for this purpose; but, as we have indicated, once the wrong has come to be, the Reason of the Kosmos employs it to good ends; and, precisely, the proof of the mightiest power is to be able to use the ignoble nobly and, given formlessness, to make it the material of unknown forms.

The principle is that evil by definition is a falling short in good, and good cannot be at full strength in this Sphere where it is lodged in the alien: the good here is in something else, in something distinct from the Good, and this something else constitutes the falling short for it is not good. And this is why evil is ineradicable: there is, first, the fact that in relation to this principle of Good, thing will always stand less than thing, and, besides, all things come into being through it and are what they are by standing away from it.

6. As for the disregard of desert — the good afflicted, the unworthy thriving — it is a sound explanation no doubt that to the good nothing is evil and to the evil nothing can be good: still the question remains why should what essentially offends our nature fall to the good while the wicked enjoy all it demands? How can such an allotment be approved?

No doubt since pleasant conditions add nothing to true happiness and the unpleasant do not lessen the evil in the wicked, the conditions matter little: as well complain that a good man happens to be ugly and a bad man handsome.

Still, under such a dispensation, there would surely be a propriety, a reasonableness, a regard to merit which, as things are, do not appear, though this would certainly be in keeping with the noblest Providence: even though external conditions do not affect a man’s hold upon good or evil, none the less it would seem utterly unfitting that the bad should be the masters, be sovereign in the state, while honourable men are slaves: a wicked ruler may commit the most lawless acts; and in war the worst men have a free hand and perpetrate every kind of crime against their prisoners.

We are forced to ask how such things can be, under a Providence. Certainly a maker must consider his work as a whole, but none the less he should see to the due ordering of all the parts, especially when these parts have Soul, that is, are Living and Reasoning Beings: the Providence must reach to all the details; its functioning must consist in neglecting no point.

Holding, therefore, as we do, despite all, that the Universe lies under an Intellectual Principle whose power has touched every existent, we cannot be absolved from the attempt to show in what way the detail of this sphere is just.

7. A preliminary observation: in looking for excellence in this thing of mixture, the Kosmos, we cannot require all that is implied in the excellence of the unmingled; it is folly to ask for Firsts in the Secondary, and since this Universe contains body, we must allow for some bodily influence upon the total and be thankful if the mingled existent lack nothing of what its nature allowed it to receive from the Divine Reason.

Thus, supposing we were enquiring for the finest type of the human being as known here, we would certainly not demand that he prove identical with Man as in the Divine Intellect; we would think it enough in the Creator to have so brought this thing of flesh and nerve and bone under Reason as to give grace to these corporeal elements and to have made it possible for Reason to have contact with Matter.

Our progress towards the object of our investigation must begin from this principle of gradation which will open to us the wonder of the Providence and of the power by which our universe holds its being.

We begin with evil acts entirely dependent upon the Souls which perpetrate them — the harm, for example, which perverted Souls do to the good and to each other. Unless the foreplanning power alone is to be charged with the vice in such Souls, we have no ground of accusation, no claim to redress: the blame lies on the Soul exercising its choice. Even a Soul, we have seen, must have its individual movement; it is not abstract Spirit; the first step towards animal life has been taken and the conduct will naturally be in keeping with that character.

It is not because the world existed that Souls are here: before the world was, they had it in them to be of the world, to concern themselves with it, to presuppose it, to administer it: it was in their nature to produce it — by whatever method, whether by giving forth some emanation while they themselves remained above, or by an actual descent, or in both ways together, some presiding from above, others descending; some for we are not at the moment concerned about the mode of creation but are simply urging that, however the world was produced, no blame falls on Providence for what exists within it.

There remains the other phase of the question — the distribution of evil to the opposite classes of men: the good go bare while the wicked are rich: all that human need demands, the least deserving have in abundance; it is they that rule; peoples and states are at their disposal. Would not all this imply that the divine power does not reach to earth?

That it does is sufficiently established by the fact that Reason rules in the lower things: animals and plants have their share in Reason, Soul and Life.

Perhaps, then, it reaches to earth but is not master over all?

We answer that the universe is one living organism: as well maintain that while human head and face are the work of nature and of the ruling reason-principle, the rest of the frame is due to other agencies — accident or sheer necessity — and owes its inferiority to this origin, or to the incompetence of unaided Nature. And even granting that those less noble members are not in themselves admirable it would still be neither pious nor even reverent to censure the entire structure.

8. Thus we come to our enquiry as to the degree of excellence found in things of this Sphere, and how far they belong to an ordered system or in what degree they are, at least, not evil.

Now in every living being the upper parts — head, face — are the most beautiful, the mid and lower members inferior. In the Universe the middle and lower members are human beings; above them, the Heavens and the Gods that dwell there; these Gods with the entire circling expanse of the heavens constitute the greater part of the Kosmos: the earth is but a central point, and may be considered as simply one among the stars. Yet human wrong-doing is made a matter of wonder; we are evidently asked to take humanity as the choice member of the Universe, nothing wiser existent!

But humanity, in reality, is poised midway between gods and beasts, and inclines now to the one order, now to the other; some men grow like to the divine, others to the brute, the greater number stand neutral. But those that are corrupted to the point of approximating to irrational animals and wild beasts pull the mid-folk about and inflict wrong upon them; the victims are no doubt better than the wrongdoers, but are at the mercy of their inferiors in the field in which they themselves are inferior, where, that is, they cannot be classed among the good since they have not trained themselves in self-defence.

A gang of lads, morally neglected, and in that respect inferior to the intermediate class, but in good physical training, attack and throw another set, trained neither physically nor morally, and make off with their food and their dainty clothes. What more is called for than a laugh?

And surely even the lawgiver would be right in allowing the second group to suffer this treatment, the penalty of their sloth and self-indulgence: the gymnasium lies there before them, and they, in laziness and luxury and listlessness, have allowed themselves to fall like fat-loaded sheep, a prey to the wolves.

But the evil-doers also have their punishment: first they pay in that very wolfishness, in the disaster to their human quality: and next there is laid up for them the due of their Kind: living ill here, they will not get off by death; on every precedent through all the line there waits its sequent, reasonable and natural — worse to the bad, better to the good.

This at once brings us outside the gymnasium with its fun for boys; they must grow up, both kinds, amid their childishness and both one day stand girt and armed. Then there is a finer spectacle than is ever seen by those that train in the ring. But at this stage some have not armed themselves — and the duly armed win the day.

Not even a God would have the right to deal a blow for the unwarlike: the law decrees that to come safe out of battle is for fighting men, not for those that pray. The harvest comes home not for praying but for tilling; healthy days are not for those that neglect their health: we have no right to complain of the ignoble getting the richer harvest if they are the only workers in the fields, or the best.

Again: it is childish, while we carry on all the affairs of our life to our own taste and not as the Gods would have us, to expect them to keep all well for us in spite of a life that is lived without regard to the conditions which the Gods have prescribed for our well-being. Yet death would be better for us than to go on living lives condemned by the laws of the Universe. If things took the contrary course, if all the modes of folly and wickedness brought no trouble in life — then indeed we might complain of the indifference of a Providence leaving the victory to evil.

Bad men rule by the feebleness of the ruled: and this is just; the triumph of weaklings would not be just.

9. It would not be just, because Providence cannot be a something reducing us to nothingness: to think of Providence as everything, with no other thing in existence, is to annihilate the Universe; such a providence could have no field of action; nothing would exist except the Divine. As things are, the Divine, of course, exists, but has reached forth to something other — not to reduce that to nothingness but to preside over it; thus in the case of Man, for instance, the Divine presides as the Providence, preserving the character of human nature, that is the character of a being under the providential law, which, again, implies subjection to what that law may enjoin.

And that law enjoins that those who have made themselves good shall know the best of life, here and later, the bad the reverse. But the law does not warrant the wicked in expecting that their prayers should bring others to sacrifice themselves for their sakes; or that the gods should lay aside the divine life in order to direct their daily concerns; or that good men, who have chosen a path nobler than all earthly rule, should become their rulers. The perverse have never made a single effort to bring the good into authority, nor do they take any steps to improve themselves; they are all spite against anyone that becomes good of his own motion, though if good men were placed in authority the total of goodness would be increased.

In sum: Man has come into existence, a living being but not a member of the noblest order; he occupies by choice an intermediate rank; still, in that place in which he exists, Providence does not allow him to be reduced to nothing; on the contrary he is ever being led upwards by all those varied devices which the Divine employs in its labour to increase the dominance of moral value. The human race, therefore, is not deprived by Providence of its rational being; it retains its share, though necessarily limited, in wisdom, intelligence, executive power and right doing, the right doing, at least, of individuals to each other — and even in wronging others people think they are doing right and only paying what is due.

Man is, therefore, a noble creation, as perfect as the scheme allows; a part, no doubt, in the fabric of the All, he yet holds a lot higher than that of all the other living things of earth.

Now, no one of any intelligence complains of these others, man’s inferiors, which serve to the adornment of the world; it would be feeble indeed to complain of animals biting man, as if we were to pass our days asleep. No: the animal, too, exists of necessity, and is serviceable in many ways, some obvious and many progressively discovered — so that not one lives without profit to itself and even to humanity. It is ridiculous, also, to complain that many of them are dangerous — there are dangerous men abroad as well — and if they distrust us, and in their distrust attack, is that anything to wonder at?

10. But: if the evil in men is involuntary, if their own will has not made them what they are, how can we either blame wrong-doers or even reproach their victims with suffering through their own fault?

If there is a Necessity, bringing about human wickedness either by force of the celestial movement or by a rigorous sequence set up by the First Cause, is not the evil a thin rooted in Nature? And if thus the Reason-Principle of the universe is the creator of evil, surely all is injustice?

No: Men are no doubt involuntary sinners in the sense that they do not actually desire to sin; but this does not alter the fact that wrongdoers, of their own choice, are, themselves, the agents; it is because they themselves act that the sin is in their own; if they were not agents they could not sin.

The Necessity [held to underlie human wickedness] is not an outer force [actually compelling the individual], but exists only in the sense of a universal relationship.

Nor is the force of the celestial Movement such as to leave us powerless: if the universe were something outside and apart from us it would stand as its makers willed so that, once the gods had done their part, no man, however impious, could introduce anything contrary to their intention. But, as things are, efficient act does come from men: given the starting Principle, the secondary line, no doubt, is inevitably completed; but each and every principle contributes towards the sequence. Now Men are Principles, or, at least, they are moved by their characteristic nature towards all that is good, and that nature is a Principle, a freely acting cause.

11. Are we, then, to conclude that particular things are determined by Necessities rooted in Nature and by the sequence of causes, and that everything is as good as anything can be?

No: the Reason-Principle is the sovereign, making all: it wills things as they are and, in its reasonable act, it produces even what we know as evil: it cannot desire all to be good: an artist would not make an animal all eyes; and in the same way, the Reason-Principle would not make all divine; it makes Gods but also celestial spirits, the intermediate order, then men, then the animals; all is graded succession, and this in no spirit of grudging but in the expression of a Reason teeming with intellectual variety.

We are like people ignorant of painting who complain that the colours are not beautiful everywhere in the picture: but the Artist has laid on the appropriate tint to every spot. Or we are censuring a drama because the persons are not all heroes but include a servant and a rustic and some scurrilous clown; yet take away the low characters and the power of the drama is gone; these are part and parcel of it.

12. Suppose this Universe were the direct creation of the Reason-Principle applying itself, quite unchanged, to Matter, retaining, that is, the hostility to partition which it derives from its Prior, the Intellectual Principle — then, this its product, so produced, would be of supreme and unparalleled excellence. But the Reason-Principle could not be a thing of entire identity or even of closely compact diversity; and the mode in which it is here manifested is no matter of censure since its function is to be all things, each single thing in some distinctive way.

But has it not, besides itself entering Matter, brought other beings down? Has it not for example brought Souls into Matter and, in adapting them to its creation, twisted them against their own nature and been the ruin of many of them? And can this be right?

The answer is that the Souls are, in a fair sense, members of this Reason-Principle and that it has not adapted them to the creation by perverting them, but has set them in the place here to which their quality entitles them.

13. And we must not despise the familiar observation that there is something more to be considered than the present. There are the periods of the past and, again, those in the future; and these have everything to do with fixing worth of place.

Thus a man, once a ruler, will be made a slave because he abused his power and because the fall is to his future good. Those that have money will be made poor — and to the good poverty is no hindrance. Those that have unjustly killed, are killed in turn, unjustly as regards the murderer but justly as regards the victim, and those that are to suffer are thrown into the path of those that administer the merited treatment.

It is not an accident that makes a man a slave; no one is a prisoner by chance; every bodily outrage has its due cause. The man once did what he now suffers. A man that murders his mother will become a woman and be murdered by a son; a man that wrongs a woman will become a woman, to be wronged.

Hence arises that awesome word “Adrasteia” [the Inevadable Retribution]; for in very truth this ordinance is an Adrasteia, justice itself and a wonderful wisdom.

We cannot but recognize from what we observe in this universe that some such principle of order prevails throughout the entire of existence — the minutest of things a tributary to the vast total; the marvellous art shown not merely in the mightiest works and sublimest members of the All, but even amid such littleness as one would think Providence must disdain: the varied workmanship of wonder in any and every animal form; the world of vegetation, too; the grace of fruits and even of leaves, the lavishness, the delicacy, the diversity of exquisite bloom; and all this not issuing once, and then to die out, but made ever and ever anew as the Transcendent Beings move variously over this earth.

In all the changing, there is no change by chance: there is no taking of new forms but to desirable ends and in ways worthy of Divine Powers. All that is Divine executes the Act of its quality; its quality is the expression of its essential Being: and this essential Being in the Divine is the Being whose activities produce as one thing the desirable and the just — for if the good and the just are not produced there, where, then, have they their being?

14. The ordinance of the Kosmos, then, is in keeping with the Intellectual Principle. True, no reasoning went to its creation, but it so stands that the keenest reasoning must wonder — since no reasoning could be able to make it otherwise — at the spectacle before it, a product which, even in the Kinds of the partial and particular Sphere, displays the Divine Intelligence to a degree in which no arranging by reason could express it. Every one of the ceaselessly recurrent types of being manifests a creating Reason-Principle above all censure. No fault is to be found unless on the assumption that everything ought to come into being with all the perfection of those that have never known such a coming, the Eternals. In that case, things of the Intellectual realm and things of the realm of sense must remain one unbroken identity for ever.

In this demand for more good than exists, there is implied a failure to recognize that the form allotted to each entity is sufficient in itself; it is like complaining because one kind of animal lacks horns. We ought to understand both that the Reason-Principle must extend to every possible existent and, at the same time, that every greater must include lesser things, that to every whole belong its parts, and that all cannot be equality unless all part is to be absent.

This is why in the Over-World each entity is all, while here, below, the single thing is not all [is not the Universe but a “Self”]. Thus too, a man, an individual, in so far as he is a part, is not Humanity complete: but wheresoever there is associated with the parts something that is no part [but a Divine, an Intellectual Being], this makes a whole of that in which it dwells. Man, man as partial thing, cannot be required to have attained to the very summit of goodness: if he had, he would have ceased to be of the partial order. Not that there is any grudging in the whole towards the part that grows in goodness and dignity; such an increase in value is a gain to the beauty of the whole; the lesser grows by being made over in the likeness of the greater, by being admitted, as it were, to something of that greatness, by sharing in that rank, and thus even from this place of man, from man’s own self, something gleams forth, as the stars shine in the divine firmament, so that all appears one great and lovely figure — living or wrought in the furnaces of craftsmanship — with stars radiant not only in the ears and on the brow but on the breasts too, and wherever else they may be displayed in beauty.

15. These considerations apply very well to things considered as standing alone: but there is a stumbling-block, a new problem, when we think of all these forms, permanent and ceaselessly produced, in mutual relationship.

The animals devour each other: men attack each other: all is war without rest, without truce: this gives new force to the question how Reason can be author of the plan and how all can be declared well done.

This new difficulty is not met by the former answer; that all stands as well as the nature of things allows; that the blame for their condition falls on Matter dragging them down; that, given the plan as we know it, evil cannot be eliminated and should not be; that the Matter making its presence felt is still not supreme but remains an element taken in from outside to contribute to a definite total, or rather to be itself brought to order by Reason.

The Divine Reason is the beginning and the end; all that comes into being must be rational and fall at its coming into an ordered scheme reasonable at every point. Where, then, is the necessity of this bandit war of man and beast?

This devouring of Kind by Kind is necessary as the means to the transmutation of living things which could not keep form for ever even though no other killed them: what grievance is it that when they must go their despatch is so planned as to be serviceable to others?

Still more, what does it matter when they are devoured only to return in some new form? It comes to no more than the murder of one of the personages in a play; the actor alters his make-up and enters in a new role. The actor, of course, was not really killed; but if dying is but changing a body as the actor changes a costume, or even an exit from the body like the exit of the actor from the boards when he has no more to say or do, what is there so very dreadful in this transformation of living beings one into another?

Surely it is much better so than if they had never existed: that way would mean the bleak quenching of life, precluded from passing outside itself; as the plan holds, life is poured copiously throughout a Universe, engendering the universal things and weaving variety into their being, never at rest from producing an endless sequence of comeliness and shapeliness, a living pastime.

Men directing their weapons against each other — under doom of death yet neatly lined up to fight as in the pyrrhic sword-dances of their sport — this is enough to tell us that all human intentions are but play, that death is nothing terrible, that to die in a war or in a fight is but to taste a little beforehand what old age has in store, to go away earlier and come back the sooner. So for misfortunes that may accompany life, the loss of property, for instance; the loser will see that there was a time when it was not his, that its possession is but a mock boon to the robbers, who will in their turn lose it to others, and even that to retain property is a greater loss than to forfeit it.

Murders, death in all its guises, the reduction and sacking of cities, all must be to us just such a spectacle as the changing scenes of a play; all is but the varied incident of a plot, costume on and off, acted grief and lament. For on earth, in all the succession of life, it is not the Soul within but the Shadow outside of the authentic man, that grieves and complains and acts out the plot on this world stage which men have dotted with stages of their own constructing. All this is the doing of man knowing no more than to live the lower and outer life, and never perceiving that, in his weeping and in his graver doings alike, he is but at play; to handle austere matters austerely is reserved for the thoughtful: the other kind of man is himself a futility. Those incapable of thinking gravely read gravity into frivolities which correspond to their own frivolous Nature. Anyone that joins in their trifling and so comes to look on life with their eyes must understand that by lending himself to such idleness he has laid aside his own character. If Socrates himself takes part in the trifling, he trifles in the outer Socrates.

We must remember, too, that we cannot take tears and laments as proof that anything is wrong; children cry and whimper where there is nothing amiss.

16. But if all this is true, what room is left for evil? Where are we to place wrong-doing and sin?

How explain that in a world organized in good, the efficient agents [human beings] behave unjustly, commit sin? And how comes misery if neither sin nor injustice exists?

Again, if all our action is determined by a natural process, how can the distinction be maintained between behaviour in accordance with nature and behaviour in conflict with it?

And what becomes of blasphemy against the divine? The blasphemer is made what he is: a dramatist has written a part insulting and maligning himself and given it to an actor to play.

These considerations oblige us to state the Logos [the Reason-Principle of the Universe] once again, and more clearly, and to justify its nature.

This Reason-Principle, then — let us dare the definition in the hope of conveying the truth — this Logos is not the Intellectual Principle unmingled, not the Absolute Divine Intellect; nor does it descend from the pure Soul alone; it is a dependent of that Soul while, in a sense, it is a radiation from both those divine Hypostases; the Intellectual Principle and the Soul — the Soul as conditioned by the Intellectual Principle engender this Logos which is a Life holding restfully a certain measure of Reason.

Now all life, even the least valuable, is an activity, and not a blind activity like that of flame; even where there is not sensation the activity of life is no mere haphazard play of Movement: any object in which life is present, and object which participates in Life, is at once enreasoned in the sense that the activity peculiar to life is formative, shaping as it moves.

Life, then, aims at pattern as does the pantomimic dancer with his set movements; the mime, in himself, represents life, and, besides, his movements proceed in obedience to a pattern designed to symbolize life.

Thus far to give us some idea of the nature of Life in general.

But this Reason-Principle which emanates from the complete unity, divine Mind, and the complete unity Life [= Soul]— is neither a uniate complete Life nor a uniate complete divine Mind, nor does it give itself whole and all-including to its subject. [By an imperfect communication] it sets up a conflict of part against part: it produces imperfect things and so engenders and maintains war and attack, and thus its unity can be that only of a sum-total not of a thing undivided. At war with itself in the parts which it now exhibits, it has the unity, or harmony, of a drama torn with struggle. The drama, of course, brings the conflicting elements to one final harmony, weaving the entire story of the clashing characters into one thing; while in the Logos the conflict of the divergent elements rises within the one element, the Reason-Principle: the comparison therefore is rather with a harmony emerging directly from the conflicting elements themselves, and the question becomes what introduces clashing elements among these Reason-Principles.

Now in the case of music, tones high and low are the product of Reason-Principles which, by the fact that they are Principles of harmony, meet in the unit of Harmony, the absolute Harmony, a more comprehensive Principle, greater than they and including them as its parts. Similarly in the Universe at large we find contraries — white and black, hot and cold, winged and wingless, footed and footless, reasoning and unreasoning — but all these elements are members of one living body, their sum-total; the Universe is a self-accordant entity, its members everywhere clashing but the total being the manifestation of a Reason-Principle. That one Reason-Principle, then, must be the unification of conflicting Reason-Principles whose very opposition is the support of its coherence and, almost, of its Being.

And indeed, if it were not multiple, it could not be a Universal Principle, it could not even be at all a Reason-Principle; in the fact of its being a Reason-Principle is contained the fact of interior difference. Now the maximum of difference is contrariety; admitting that this differentiation exists and creates, it will create difference in the greatest and not in the least degree; in other words, the Reason-Principle, bringing about differentiation to the uttermost degree, will of necessity create contrarieties: it will be complete only by producing itself not in merely diverse things but in contrary things.

17. The nature of the Reason-Principle is adequately expressed in its Act and, therefore, the wider its extension the nearer will its productions approach to full contrariety: hence the world of sense is less a unity than is its Reason-Principle; it contains a wider multiplicity and contrariety: its partial members will, therefore, be urged by a closer intention towards fullness of life, a warmer desire for unification.

But desire often destroys the desired; it seeks its own good, and, if the desired object is perishable, the ruin follows: and the partial thing straining towards its completing principle draws towards itself all it possibly can.

Thus, with the good we have the bad: we have the opposed movements of a dancer guided by one artistic plan; we recognize in his steps the good as against the bad, and see that in the opposition lies the merit of the design.

But, thus, the wicked disappear?

No: their wickedness remains; simply, their role is not of their own planning.

But, surely, this excuses them?

No; excuse lies with the Reason-Principle — and the Reason-Principle does not excuse them.

No doubt all are members of this Principle but one is a good man, another is bad — the larger class, this — and it goes as in a play; the poet while he gives each actor a part is also using them as they are in their own persons: he does not himself rank the men as leading actor, second, third; he simply gives suitable words to each, and by that assignment fixes each man’s standing.

Thus, every man has his place, a place that fits the good man, a place that fits the bad: each within the two orders of them makes his way, naturally, reasonably, to the place, good or bad, that suits him, and takes the position he has made his own. There he talks and acts, in blasphemy and crime or in all goodness: for the actors bring to this play what they were before it was ever staged.

In the dramas of human art, the poet provides the words but the actors add their own quality, good or bad — for they have more to do than merely repeat the author’s words — in the truer drama which dramatic genius imitates in its degree, the Soul displays itself in a part assigned by the creator of the piece.

As the actors of our stages get their masks and their costume, robes of state or rags, so a Soul is allotted its fortunes, and not at haphazard but always under a Reason: it adapts itself to the fortunes assigned to it, attunes itself, ranges itself rightly to the drama, to the whole Principle of the piece: then it speaks out its business, exhibiting at the same time all that a Soul can express of its own quality, as a singer in a song. A voice, a bearing, naturally fine or vulgar, may increase the charm of a piece; on the other hand, an actor with his ugly voice may make a sorry exhibition of himself, yet the drama stands as good a work as ever: the dramatist, taking the action which a sound criticism suggests, disgraces one, taking his part from him, with perfect justice: another man he promotes to more serious roles or to any more important play he may have, while the first is cast for whatever minor work there may be.

Just so the Soul, entering this drama of the Universe, making itself a part of the Play, bringing to its acting its personal excellence or defect, set in a definite place at the entry and accepting from the author its entire role — superimposed upon its own character and conduct — just so, it receives in the end its punishment and reward.

But these actors, Souls, hold a peculiar dignity: they act in a vaster place than any stage: the Author has made them masters of all this world; they have a wide choice of place; they themselves determine the honour or discredit in which they are agents since their place and part are in keeping with their quality: they therefore fit into the Reason-Principle of the Universe, each adjusted, most legitimately, to the appropriate environment, as every string of the lyre is set in the precisely right position, determined by the Principle directing musical utterance, for the due production of the tones within its capacity. All is just and good in the Universe in which every actor is set in his own quite appropriate place, though it be to utter in the Darkness and in Tartarus the dreadful sounds whose utterance there is well.

This Universe is good not when the individual is a stone, but when everyone throws in his own voice towards a total harmony, singing out a life — thin, harsh, imperfect, though it be. The Syrinx does not utter merely one pure note; there is a thin obscure sound which blends in to make the harmony of Syrinx music: the harmony is made up from tones of various grades, all the tones differing, but the resultant of all forming one sound.

Similarly the Reason-Principle entire is One, but it is broken into unequal parts: hence the difference of place found in the Universe, better spots and worse; and hence the inequality of Souls, finding their appropriate surroundings amid this local inequality. The diverse places of this sphere, the Souls of unequal grade and unlike conduct, are wen exemplified by the distinction of parts in the Syrinx or any other instrument: there is local difference, but from every position every string gives forth its own tone, the sound appropriate, at once, to its particular place and to the entire plan.

What is evil in the single Soul will stand a good thing in the universal system; what in the unit offends nature will serve nature in the total event — and still remains the weak and wrong tone it is, though its sounding takes nothing from the worth of the whole, just as, in another order of image, the executioner’s ugly office does not mar the well-governed state: such an officer is a civic necessity; and the corresponding moral type is often serviceable; thus, even as things are, all is well.

18. Souls vary in worth; and the difference is due, among other causes, to an almost initial inequality; it is in reason that, standing to the Reason-Principle, as parts, they should be unequal by the fact of becoming separate.

We must also remember that every Soul has its second grade and its third, and that, therefore, its expression may take any one of three main forms. But this point must be dealt with here again: the matter requires all possible elucidation.

We may perhaps think of actors having the right to add something to the poet’s words: the drama as it stands is not perfectly filled in, and they are to supply where the Author has left blank spaces here and there; the actors are to be something else as well; they become parts of the poet, who on his side has a foreknowledge of the word they will add, and so is able to bind into one story what the actors bring in and what is to follow.

For, in the All, the sequences, including what follows upon wickedness, become Reason-Principles, and therefore in right reason. Thus: from adultery and the violation of prisoners the process of nature will produce fine children, to grow, perhaps, into fine men; and where wicked violence has destroyed cities, other and nobler cities may rise in their place.

But does not this make it absurd to introduce Souls as responsible causes, some acting for good and some for evil? If we thus exonerate the Reason-Principle from any part in wickedness do we not also cancel its credit for the good? Why not simply take the doings of these actors for representative parts of the Reason-Principle as the doings of stage-actors are representative parts of the stage-drama? Why not admit that the Reason-Principle itself includes evil action as much as good action, and inspires the precise conduct of all its representatives? Would not this be all the more Plausible in that the universal drama is the completer creation and that the Reason-Principle is the source of all that exists?

But this raises the question: “What motive could lead the Logos to produce evil?”

The explanation, also, would take away all power in the Universe from Souls, even those nearest to the divine; they would all be mere parts of a Reason-Principle.

And, further — unless all Reason-Principles are Souls — why should some be souls and others exclusively Reason-Principles when the All is itself a Soul?

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/p/plotinus/p72e/part3.2.html

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