The Six Enneads, by Plotinus

Sixth Tractate.

The Impassivity of the Unembodied.

1. In our theory, feelings are not states; they are action upon experience, action accompanied by judgement: the states, we hold, are seated elsewhere; they may be referred to the vitalized body; the judgement resides in the Soul, and is distinct from the state — for, if it is not distinct, another judgement is demanded, one that is distinct, and, so, we may be sent back for ever.

Still, this leaves it undecided whether in the act of judgement the judging faculty does or does not take to itself something of its object.

If the judging faculty does actually receive an imprint, then it partakes of the state — though what are called the Impressions may be of quite another nature than is supposed; they may be like Thought, that is to say they may be acts rather than states; there may be, here too, awareness without participation.

For ourselves, it could never be in our system — or in our liking — to bring the Soul down to participation in such modes and modifications as the warmth and cold of material frames.

What is known as the Impressionable faculty of the soul — to pathetikon — would need to be identified: we must satisfy ourselves as to whether this too, like the Soul as a unity, is to be classed as immune or, on the contrary, as precisely the only part susceptible of being affected; this question, however, may be held over; we proceed to examine its preliminaries.

Even in the superior phase of the Soul — that which precedes the impressionable faculty and any sensation — how can we reconcile immunity with the indwelling of vice, false notions, ignorance? Inviolability; and yet likings and dislikings, the Soul enjoying, grieving, angry, grudging, envying, desiring, never at peace but stirring and shifting with everything that confronts it!

If the Soul were material and had magnitude, it would be difficult, indeed quite impossible, to make it appear to be immune, unchangeable, when any of such emotions lodge in it. And even considering it as an Authentic Being, devoid of magnitude and necessarily indestructible, we must be very careful how we attribute any such experiences to it or we will find ourselves unconsciously making it subject to dissolution. If its essence is a Number or as we hold a Reason-Principle, under neither head could it be susceptible of feeling. We can think, only, that it entertains unreasoned reasons and experiences unexperienced, all transmuted from the material frames, foreign and recognized only by parallel, so that it possesses in a kind of non-possession and knows affection without being affected. How this can be demands enquiry.

2. Let us begin with virtue and vice in the Soul. What has really occurred when, as we say, vice is present? In speaking of extirpating evil and implanting goodness, of introducing order and beauty to replace a former ugliness, we talk in terms of real things in the Soul.

Now when we make virtue a harmony, and vice a breach of harmony, we accept an opinion approved by the ancients; and the theory helps us decidedly to our solution. For if virtue is simply a natural concordance among the phases of the Soul, and vice simply a discord, then there is no further question of any foreign presence; harmony would be the result of every distinct phase or faculty joining in, true to itself; discord would mean that not all chimed in at their best and truest. Consider, for example, the performers in a choral dance; they sing together though each one has his particular part, and sometimes one voice is heard while the others are silent; and each brings to the chorus something of his own; it is not enough that all lift their voices together; each must sing, choicely, his own part to the music set for him. Exactly so in the case of the Soul; there will be harmony when each faculty performs its appropriate part.

Yes: but this very harmony constituting the virtue of the Soul must depend upon a previous virtue, that of each several faculty within itself; and before there can be the vice of discord there must be the vice of the single parts, and these can be bad only by the actual presence of vice as they can be good only by the presence of virtue. It is true that no presence is affirmed when vice is identified with ignorance in the reasoning faculty of the Soul; ignorance is not a positive thing; but in the presence of false judgements — the main cause of vice — must it not be admitted that something positive has entered into the Soul, something perverting the reasoning faculty? So, the initiative faculty; is it not, itself, altered as one varies between timidity and boldness? And the desiring faculty, similarly, as it runs wild or accepts control?

Our teaching is that when the particular faculty is sound it performs the reasonable act of its essential nature, obeying the reasoning faculty in it which derives from the Intellectual Principle and communicates to the rest. And this following of reason is not the acceptance of an imposed shape; it is like using the eyes; the Soul sees by its act, that of looking towards reason. The faculty of sight in the performance of its act is essentially what it was when it lay latent; its act is not a change in it, but simply its entering into the relation that belongs to its essential character; it knows — that is, sees — without suffering any change: so, precisely, the reasoning phase of the Soul stands towards the Intellectual Principle; this it sees by its very essence; this vision is its knowing faculty; it takes in no stamp, no impression; all that enters it is the object of vision — possessed, once more, without possession; it possesses by the fact of knowing but “without possession” in the sense that there is no incorporation of anything left behind by the object of vision, like the impression of the seal on sealing-wax.

And note that we do not appeal to stored-up impressions to account for memory: we think of the mind awakening its powers in such a way as to possess something not present to it.

Very good: but is it not different before and after acquiring the memory?

Be it so; but it has suffered no change — unless we are to think of the mere progress from latency to actuality as change — nothing has been introduced into the mind; it has simply achieved the Act dictated by its nature.

It is universally true that the characteristic Act of immaterial entities is performed without any change in them — otherwise they would at last be worn away — theirs is the Act of the unmoving; where act means suffering change, there is Matter: an immaterial Being would have no ground of permanence if its very Act changed it.

Thus in the case of Sight, the seeing faculty is in act but the material organ alone suffers change: judgements are similar to visual experiences.

But how explain the alternation of timidity and daring in the initiative faculty?

Timidity would come by the failure to look towards the Reason-Principle or by looking towards some inferior phase of it or by some defect in the organs of action — some lack or flaw in the bodily equipment — or by outside prevention of the natural act or by the mere absence of adequate stimulus: boldness would arise from the reverse conditions: neither implies any change, or even any experience, in the Soul.

So with the faculty of desire: what we call loose living is caused by its acting unaccompanied; it has done all of itself; the other faculties, whose business it is to make their presence felt in control and to point the right way, have lain in abeyance; the Seer in the Soul was occupied elsewhere, for, though not always at least sometimes, it has leisure for a certain degree of contemplation of other concerns.

Often, moreover, the vice of the desiring faculty will be merely some ill condition of the body, and its virtue, bodily soundness; thus there would again be no question of anything imported into the Soul.

3. But how do we explain likings and aversions? Sorrow, too, and anger and pleasure, desire and fear — are these not changes, affectings, present and stirring within the Soul?

This question cannot be ignored. To deny that changes take place and are intensely felt is in sharp contradiction to obvious facts. But, while we recognize this, we must make very sure what it is that changes. To represent the Soul or Mind as being the seat of these emotions is not far removed from making it blush or turn pale; it is to forget that while the Soul or Mind is the means, the effect takes place in the distinct organism, the animated body.

At the idea of disgrace, the shame is in the Soul; but the body is occupied by the Soul — not to trouble about words — is, at any rate, close to it and very different from soulless matter; and so, is affected in the blood, mobile in its nature. Fear begins in the mind; the pallor is simply the withdrawal of the blood inwards. So in pleasure, the elation is mental, but makes itself felt in the body; the purely mental phase has not reached the point of sensation: the same is true of pain. So desire is ignored in the Soul where the impulse takes its rise; what comes outward thence, the Sensibility knows.

When we speak of the Soul or Mind being moved — as in desire, reasoning, judging — we do not mean that it is driven into its act; these movements are its own acts.

In the same way when we call Life a movement we have no idea of a changing substance; the naturally appropriate act of each member of the living thing makes up the Life, which is, therefore, not a shifting thing.

To bring the matter to the point: put it that life, tendency, are no changements; that memories are not forms stamped upon the mind, that notions are not of the nature of impressions on sealing-wax; we thence draw the general conclusion that in all such states and movements the Soul, or Mind, is unchanged in substance and in essence, that virtue and vice are not something imported into the Soul — as heat and cold, blackness or whiteness are importations into body — but that, in all this relation, matter and spirit are exactly and comprehensively contraries.

4. We have, however, still to examine what is called the affective phase of the Soul. This has, no doubt, been touched upon above where we dealt with the passions in general as grouped about the initiative phase of the Soul and the desiring faculty in its effort to shape things to its choice: but more is required; we must begin by forming a clear idea of what is meant by this affective faculty of the Soul.

In general terms it means the centre about which we recognize the affections to be grouped; and by affections we mean those states upon which follow pleasure and pain.

Now among these affections we must distinguish. Some are pivoted upon judgements; thus, a Man judging his death to be at hand may feel fear; foreseeing some fortunate turn of events, he is happy: the opinion lies in one sphere; the affection is stirred in another. Sometimes the affections take the lead and automatically bring in the notion which thus becomes present to the appropriate faculty: but as we have explained, an act of opinion does not introduce any change into the Soul or Mind: what happens is that from the notion of some impending evil is produced the quite separate thing, fear, and this fear, in turn, becomes known in that part of the Mind which is said under such circumstances to harbour fear.

But what is the action of this fear upon the Mind?

The general answer is that it sets up trouble and confusion before an evil anticipated. It should, however, be quite clear that the Soul or Mind is the seat of all imaginative representation — both the higher representation known as opinion or judgement and the lower representation which is not so much a judgement as a vague notion unattended by discrimination, something resembling the action by which, as is believed, the “Nature” of common speech produces, unconsciously, the objects of the partial sphere. It is equally certain that in all that follows upon the mental act or state, the disturbance, confined to the body, belongs to the sense-order; trembling, pallor, inability to speak, have obviously nothing to do with the spiritual portion of the being. The Soul, in fact, would have to be described as corporeal if it were the seat of such symptoms: besides, in that case the trouble would not even reach the body since the only transmitting principle, oppressed by sensation, jarred out of itself, would be inhibited.

None the less, there is an affective phase of the Soul or Mind and this is not corporeal; it can be, only, some kind of Ideal-form.

Now Matter is the one field of the desiring faculty, as of the principles of nutrition growth and engendering, which are root and spring to desire and to every other affection known to this Ideal-form. No Ideal-form can be the victim of disturbance or be in any way affected: it remains in tranquillity; only the Matter associated with it can be affected by any state or experience induced by the movement which its mere presence suffices to set up. Thus the vegetal Principle induces vegetal life but it does not, itself, pass through the processes of vegetation; it gives growth but it does not grow; in no movement which it originates is it moved with the motion it induces; it is in perfect repose, or, at least, its movement, really its act, is utterly different from what it causes elsewhere.

The nature of an Ideal-form is to be, of itself, an activity; it operates by its mere presence: it is as if Melody itself plucked the strings. The affective phase of the Soul or Mind will be the operative cause of all affection; it originates the movement either under the stimulus of some sense-presentment or independently — and it is a question to be examined whether the judgement leading to the movement operates from above or not — but the affective phase itself remains unmoved like Melody dictating music. The causes originating the movement may be likened to the musician; what is moved is like the strings of his instrument, and once more, the Melodic Principle itself is not affected, but only the strings, though, however much the musician desired it, he could not pluck the strings except under dictation from the principle of Melody.

5. But why have we to call in Philosophy to make the Soul immune if it is thus immune from the beginning?

Because representations attack it at what we call the affective phase and cause a resulting experience, a disturbance, to which disturbance is joined the image of threatened evil: this amounts to an affection and Reason seeks to extinguish it, to ban it as destructive to the well-being of the Soul which by the mere absence of such a condition is immune, the one possible cause of affection not being present.

Take it that some such affections have engendered appearances presented before the Soul or Mind from without but taken [for practical purposes] to be actual experiences within it — then Philosophy’s task is like that of a man who wishes to throw off the shapes presented in dreams, and to this end recalls to waking condition the mind that is breeding them.

But what can be meant by the purification of a Soul that has never been stained and by the separation of the Soul from a body to which it is essentially a stranger?

The purification of the Soul is simply to allow it to be alone; it is pure when it keeps no company; when it looks to nothing without itself; when it entertains no alien thoughts — be the mode or origin of such notions or affections what they may, a subject on which we have already touched — when it no longer sees in the world of image, much less elaborates images into veritable affections. Is it not a true purification to turn away towards the exact contrary of earthly things?

Separation, in the same way, is the condition of a soul no longer entering into the body to lie at its mercy; it is to stand as a light, set in the midst of trouble but unperturbed through all.

In the particular case of the affective phase of the Soul, purification is its awakening from the baseless visions which beset it, the refusal to see them; its separation consists in limiting its descent towards the lower and accepting no picture thence, and of course in the banning for its part too of all which the higher Soul ignores when it has arisen from the trouble storm and is no longer bound to the flesh by the chains of sensuality and of multiplicity but has subdued to itself the body and its entire surrounding so that it holds sovereignty, tranquilly, over all.

6. the Intellectual Essence, wholly of the order of Ideal-form, must be taken as impassive has been already established.

But Matter also is an incorporeal, though after a mode of its own; we must examine, therefore, how this stands, whether it is passive, as is commonly held, a thing that can be twisted to every shape and Kind, or whether it too must be considered impassive and in what sense and fashion so. But in engaging this question and defining the nature of matter we must correct certain prevailing errors about the nature of the Authentic Existent, about Essence, about Being.

The Existent — rightly so called — is that which has authentic existence, that, therefore, which is existent completely, and therefore, again, that which at no point fails in existence. Having existence perfectly, it needs nothing to preserve it in being; it is, on the contrary, the source and cause from which all that appears to exist derives that appearance. This admitted, it must of necessity be in life, in a perfect life: if it failed it would be more nearly the nonexistent than the existent. But: The Being thus indicated is Intellect, is wisdom unalloyed. It is, therefore, determined and rounded off; it is nothing potentially that is not of the same determined order, otherwise it would be in default.

Hence its eternity, its identity, its utter irreceptivity and impermeability. If it took in anything, it must be taking in something outside itself, that is to say, Existence would at last include non-existence. But it must be Authentic Existence all through; it must, therefore, present itself equipped from its own stores with all that makes up Existence so that all stands together and all is one thing. The Existent [Real Being] must have thus much of determination: if it had not, then it could not be the source of the Intellectual Principle and of Life which would be importations into it originating in the sphere of non-Being; and Real Being would be lifeless and mindless; but mindlessness and lifelessness are the characteristics of non-being and must belong to the lower order, to the outer borders of the existent; for Intellect and Life rise from the Beyond-Existence [the Indefinable Supreme]— though Itself has no need of them — and are conveyed from It into the Authentic Existent.

If we have thus rightly described the Authentic Existent, we see that it cannot be any kind of body nor the under-stuff of body; in such entities the Being is simply the existing of things outside of Being.

But body, a non-existence? Matter, on which all this universe rises, a non-existence? Mountain and rock, the wide solid earth, all that resists, all that can be struck and driven, surely all proclaims the real existence of the corporeal? And how, it will be asked, can we, on the contrary, attribute Being, and the only Authentic Being, to entities like Soul and Intellect, things having no weight or pressure, yielding to no force, offering no resistance, things not even visible?

Yet even the corporeal realm witnesses for us; the resting earth has certainly a scantier share in Being than belongs to what has more motion and less solidity — and less than belongs to its own most upward element, for fire begins, already, to flit up and away outside of the body-kind.

In fact, it appears to be precisely the most self-sufficing that bear least hardly, least painfully, on other things, while the heaviest and earthiest bodies — deficient, falling, unable to bear themselves upward — these, by the very down-thrust due to their feebleness, offer the resistance which belongs to the falling habit and to the lack of buoyancy. It is lifeless objects that deal the severest blows; they hit hardest and hurt most; where there is life — that is to say participation in Being — there is beneficence towards the environment, all the greater as the measure of Being is fuller.

Again, Movement, which is a sort of life within bodies, an imitation of true Life, is the more decided where there is the least of body a sign that the waning of Being makes the object affected more distinctly corporeal.

The changes known as affections show even more clearly that where the bodily quality is most pronounced susceptibility is at its intensest — earth more susceptible than other elements, and these others again more or less so in the degree of their corporeality: sever the other elements and, failing some preventive force, they join again; but earthy matter divided remains apart indefinitely. Things whose nature represents a diminishment have no power of recuperation after even a slight disturbance and they perish; thus what has most definitely become body, having most closely approximated to non-being lacks the strength to reknit its unity: the heavy and violent crash of body against body works destruction, and weak is powerful against weak, non-being against its like.

Thus far we have been meeting those who, on the evidence of thrust and resistance, identify body with real being and find assurance of truth in the phantasms that reach us through the senses, those, in a word, who, like dreamers, take for actualities the figments of their sleeping vision. The sphere of sense, the Soul in its slumber; for all of the Soul that is in body is asleep and the true getting-up is not bodily but from the body: in any movement that takes the body with it there is no more than a passage from sleep to sleep, from bed to bed; the veritable waking or rising is from corporeal things; for these, belonging to the Kind directly opposed to Soul, present to it what is directly opposed to its essential existence: their origin, their flux, and their perishing are the warning of their exclusion from the Kind whose Being is Authentic.

7. We are thus brought back to the nature of that underlying matter and the things believed to be based upon it; investigation will show us that Matter has no reality and is not capable of being affected.

Matter must be bodiless — for body is a later production, a compound made by Matter in conjunction with some other entity. Thus it is included among incorporeal things in the sense that body is something that is neither Real-Being nor Matter.

Matter is no Soul; it is not Intellect, is not Life, is no Ideal-Principle, no Reason-Principle; it is no limit or bound, for it is mere indetermination; it is not a power, for what does it produce?

It lives on the farther side of all these categories and so has no tide to the name of Being. It will be more plausibly called a non-being, and this in the sense not of movement [away from Being] or station (in Not-Being) but of veritable Not-Being, so that it is no more than the image and phantasm of Mass, a bare aspiration towards substantial existence; it is stationary but not in the sense of having position, it is in itself invisible, eluding all effort to observe it, present where no one can look, unseen for all our gazing, ceaselessly presenting contraries in the things based upon it; it is large and small, more and less, deficient and excessive; a phantasm unabiding and yet unable to withdraw — not even strong enough to withdraw, so utterly has it failed to accept strength from the Intellectual Principle, so absolute its lack of all Being.

Its every utterance, therefore, is a lie; it pretends to be great and it is little, to be more and it is less; and the Existence with which it masks itself is no Existence, but a passing trick making trickery of all that seems to be present in it, phantasms within a phantasm; it is like a mirror showing things as in itself when they are really elsewhere, filled in appearance but actually empty, containing nothing, pretending everything. Into it and out of it move mimicries of the Authentic Existents, images playing upon an image devoid of Form, visible against it by its very formlessness; they seem to modify it but in reality effect nothing, for they are ghostly and feeble, have no thrust and meet none in Matter either; they pass through it leaving no cleavage, as through water; or they might be compared to shapes projected so as to make some appearance upon what we can know only as the Void.

Further: if visible objects were of the rank of the originals from which they have entered into Matter we might believe Matter to be really affected by them, for we might credit them with some share of the power inherent in their Senders: but the objects of our experiences are of very different virtue than the realities they represent, and we deduce that the seeming modification of matter by visible things is unreal since the visible thing itself is unreal, having at no point any similarity with its source and cause. Feeble, in itself, a false thing and projected upon a falsity, like an image in dream or against water or on a mirror, it can but leave Matter unaffected; and even this is saying too little, for water and mirror do give back a faithful image of what presents itself before them.

8. It is a general principle that, to be modified, an object must be opposed in faculty, and in quality to the forces that enter and act upon it.

Thus where heat is present, the change comes by something that chills, where damp by some drying agency: we say a subject is modified when from warm it becomes cold, from dry wet.

A further evidence is in our speaking of a fire being burned out, when it has passed over into another element; we do not say that the Matter has been burned out: in other words, modification affects what is subject to dissolution; the acceptance of modification is the path towards dissolution; susceptibility to modification and susceptibility to dissolution go necessarily together. But Matter can never be dissolved. What into? By what process?

Still: Matter harbours heat, cold, qualities beyond all count; by these it is differentiated; it holds them as if they were of its very substance and they blend within it — since no quality is found isolated to itself — Matter lies there as the meeting ground of all these qualities with their changes as they act and react in the blend: how, then, can it fail to be modified in keeping? The only escape would be to declare Matter utterly and for ever apart from the qualities it exhibits; but the very notion of Substance implies that any and every thing present in it has some action upon it.

9. In answer: It must, first, be noted that there are a variety of modes in which an object may be said to be present to another or to exist in another. There is a “presence” which acts by changing the object — for good or for ill — as we see in the case of bodies, especially where there is life. But there is also a “presence” which acts, towards good or ill, with no modification of the object, as we have indicated in the case of the Soul. Then there is the case represented by the stamping of a design upon wax, where the “presence” of the added pattern causes no modification in the substance nor does its obliteration diminish it. And there is the example of Light whose presence does not even bring change of pattern to the object illuminated. A stone becoming cold does not change its nature in the process; it remains the stone it was. A drawing does not cease to be a drawing for being coloured.

The intermediary mass on which these surface changes appear is certainly not transmuted by them; but might there not be a modification of the underlying Matter?

No: it is impossible to think of Matter being modified by, for instance, colour — for, of course we must not talk of modification when there is no more than a presence, or at most a presenting of shape.

Mirrors and transparent objects, even more, offer a close parallel; they are quite unaffected by what is seen in or through them: material things are reflections, and the Matter on which they appear is further from being affected than is a mirror. Heat and cold are present in Matter, but the Matter itself suffers no change of temperature: growing hot and growing cold have to do only with quality; a quality enters and brings the impassible Substance under a new state — though, by the way, research into nature may show that cold is nothing positive but an absence, a mere negation. The qualities come together into Matter, but in most cases they can have no action upon each other; certainly there can be none between those of unlike scope: what effect, for example, could fragrance have on sweetness or the colour-quality on the quality of form, any quality on another of some unrelated order? The illustration of the mirror may well indicate to us that a given substratum may contain something quite distinct from itself — even something standing to it as a direct contrary — and yet remain entirely unaffected by what is thus present to it or merged into it.

A thing can be hurt only by something related to it, and similarly things are not changed or modified by any chance presence: modification comes by contrary acting upon contrary; things merely different leave each other as they were. Such modification by a direct contrary can obviously not occur in an order of things to which there is no contrary: Matter, therefore [the mere absence of Reality] cannot be modified: any modification that takes place can occur only in some compound of Matter and reality, or, speaking generally, in some agglomeration of actual things. The Matter itself — isolated, quite apart from all else, utterly simplex — must remain immune, untouched in the midst of all the interacting agencies; just as when people fight within their four walls, the house and the air in it remain without part in the turmoil.

We may take it, then, that while all the qualities and entities that appear upon Matter group to produce each the effect belonging to its nature, yet Matter itself remains immune, even more definitely immune than any of those qualities entering into it which, not being contraries, are not affected by each other.

10. Further: If Matter were susceptible of modification, it must acquire something by the incoming of the new state; it will either adopt that state, or, at least, it will be in some way different from what it was. Now upon this first incoming quality suppose a second to supervene; the recipient is no longer Matter but a modification of Matter: this second quality, perhaps, departs, but it has acted and therefore leaves something of itself after it; the substratum is still further altered. This process proceeding, the substratum ends by becoming something quite different from Matter; it becomes a thing settled in many modes and many shapes; at once it is debarred from being the all-recipient; it will have closed the entry against many incomers. In other words, the Matter is no longer there: Matter is destructible.

No: if there is to be a Matter at all, it must be always identically as it has been from the beginning: to speak of Matter as changing is to speak of it as not being Matter.

Another consideration: it is a general principle that a thing changing must remain within its constitutive Idea so that the alteration is only in the accidents and not in the essential thing; the changing object must retain this fundamental permanence, and the permanent substance cannot be the member of it which accepts modification.

Therefore there are only two possibilities: the first, that Matter itself changes and so ceases to be itself, the second that it never ceases to be itself and therefore never changes.

We may be answered that it does not change in its character as Matter: but no one could tell us in what other character it changes; and we have the admission that the Matter in itself is not subject to change.

Just as the Ideal Principles stand immutably in their essence — which consists precisely in their permanence — so, since the essence of Matter consists in its being Matter [the substratum to all material things] it must be permanent in this character; because it is Matter, it is immutable. In the Intellectual realm we have the immutable Idea; here we have Matter, itself similarly immutable.

11. I think, in fact, that Plato had this in mind where he justly speaks of the Images of Real Existents “entering and passing out”: these particular words are not used idly: he wishes us to grasp the precise nature of the relation between Matter and the Ideas.

The difficulty on this point is not really that which presented itself to most of our predecessors — how the Ideas enter into Matter — it is rather the mode of their presence in it.

It is in fact strange at sight that Matter should remain itself intact, unaffected by Ideal-forms present within it, especially seeing that these are affected by each other. It is surprising, too, that the entrant Forms should regularly expel preceding shapes and qualities, and that the modification [which cannot touch Matter] should affect what is a compound [of Idea with Matter] and this, again, not a haphazard but precisely where there is need of the incoming or outgoing of some certain Ideal-form, the compound being deficient through the absence of a particular principle whose presence will complete it.

But the reason is that the fundamental nature of Matter can take no increase by anything entering it, and no decrease by any withdrawal: what from the beginning it was, it remains. It is not like those things whose lack is merely that of arrangement and order which can be supplied without change of substance as when we dress or decorate something bare or ugly.

But where the bringing to order must cut through to the very nature, the base original must be transmuted: it can leave ugliness for beauty only by a change of substance. Matter, then, thus brought to order must lose its own nature in the supreme degree unless its baseness is an accidental: if it is base in the sense of being Baseness the Absolute, it could never participate in order, and, if evil in the sense of being Evil the Absolute, it could never participate in good.

We conclude that Matter’s participation in Idea is not by way of modification within itself: the process is very different; it is a bare seeming. Perhaps we have here the solution of the difficulty as to how Matter, essentially evil, can be reaching towards The Good: there would be no such participation as would destroy its essential nature. Given this mode of pseudo-participation — in which Matter would, as we say, retain its nature, unchanged, always being what it has essentially been — there is no longer any reason to wonder as to how while essentially evil, it yet participates in Idea: for, by this mode, it does not abandon its own character: participation is the law, but it participates only just so far as its essence allows. Under a mode of participation which allows it to remain on its own footing, its essential nature stands none the less, whatsoever the Idea, within that limit, may communicate to it: it is by no means the less evil for remaining immutably in its own order. If it had authentic participation in The Good and were veritably changed, it would not be essentially evil.

In a word, when we call Matter evil we are right only if we mean that it is not amenable to modification by The Good; but that means simply that it is subject to no modification whatever.

12. This is Plato’s conception: to him participation does not, in the case of Matter, comport any such presence of an Ideal-form in a Substance to be shaped by it as would produce one compound thing made up of the two elements changing at the same moment, merging into one another, modified each by the other.

In his haste to his purpose he raises many difficult questions, but he is determined to disown that view; he labours to indicate in what mode Matter can receive the Ideal-forms without being, itself, modified. The direct way is debarred since it is not easy to point to things actually present in a base and yet leaving that base unaffected: he therefore devises a metaphor for participation without modification, one which supports, also, his thesis that all appearing to the senses is void of substantial existence and that the region of mere seeming is vast.

Holding, as he does, that it is the patterns displayed upon Matter that cause all experience in living bodies while the Matter itself remains unaffected, he chooses this way of stating its immutability, leaving us to make out for ourselves that those very patterns impressed upon it do not comport any experience, any modification, in itself.

In the case, no doubt, of the living bodies that take one pattern or shape after having borne another, it might be said that there was a change, the variation of shape being made verbally equivalent to a real change: but since Matter is essentially without shape or magnitude, the appearing of shape upon it can by no freedom of phrase be described as a change within it. On this point one must have “a rule for thick and thin” one may safely say that the underlying Kind contains nothing whatever in the mode commonly supposed.

But if we reject even the idea of its really containing at least the patterns upon it, how is it, in any sense, a recipient?

The answer is that in the metaphor cited we have some reasonably adequate indication of the impassibility of Matter coupled with the presence upon it of what may be described as images of things not present.

But we cannot leave the point of its impassibility without a warning against allowing ourselves to be deluded by sheer custom of speech.

Plato speaks of Matter as becoming dry, wet, inflamed, but we must remember the words that follow: “and taking the shape of air and of water”: this blunts the expressions “becoming wet, becoming inflamed”; once we have Matter thus admitting these shapes, we learn that it has not itself become a shaped thing but that the shapes remain distinct as they entered. We see, further, that the expression “becoming inflamed” is not to be taken strictly: it is rather a case of becoming fire. Becoming fire is very different from becoming inflamed, which implies an outside agency and, therefore, susceptibility to modification. Matter, being itself a portion of fire, cannot be said to catch fire. To suggest that the fire not merely permeates the matter, but actually sets it on fire is like saying that a statue permeates its bronze.

Further, if what enters must be an Ideal-Principle how could it set Matter aflame? But what if it is a pattern or condition? No: the object set aflame is so in virtue of the combination of Matter and condition.

But how can this follow on the conjunction when no unity has been produced by the two?

Even if such a unity had been produced, it would be a unity of things not mutually sharing experiences but acting upon each other. And the question would then arise whether each was effective upon the other or whether the sole action was not that of one (the form) preventing the other [the Matter] from slipping away?

But when any material thing is severed, must not the Matter be divided with it? Surely the bodily modification and other experience that have accompanied the sundering, must have occurred, identically, within the Matter?

This reasoning would force the destructibility of Matter upon us: “the body is dissolved; then the Matter is dissolved.” We would have to allow Matter to be a thing of quantity, a magnitude. But since it is not a magnitude it could not have the experiences that belong to magnitude and, on the larger scale, since it is not body it cannot know the experiences of body.

In fact those that declare Matter subject to modification may as well declare it body right out.

13. Further, they must explain in what sense they hold that Matter tends to slip away from its form [the Idea]. Can we conceive it stealing out from stones and rocks or whatever else envelops it?

And of course they cannot pretend that Matter in some cases rebels and sometimes not. For if once it makes away of its own will, why should it not always escape? If it is fixed despite itself, it must be enveloped by some Ideal-Form for good and all. This, however, leaves still the question why a given portion of Matter does not remain constant to any one given form: the reason lies mainly in the fact that the Ideas are constantly passing into it.

In what sense, then, is it said to elude form?

By very nature and for ever?

But does not this precisely mean that it never ceases to be itself, in other words that its one form is an invincible formlessness? In no other sense has Plato’s dictum any value to those that invoke it.

Matter [we read] is “the receptacle and nurse of all generation.”

Now if Matter is such a receptacle and nurse, all generation is distinct from it; and since all the changeable lies in the realm of generation, Matter, existing before all generation, must exist before all change.

“Receptacle” and “nurse”; then it “retains its identity; it is not subject to modification. Similarly if it is” [as again we read] “the ground on which individual things appear and disappear,” and so, too, if it is a “place, a base.” Where Plato describes and identifies it as “a ground to the ideas” he is not attributing any state to it; he is probing after its distinctive manner of being.

And what is that?

This which we think of as a Nature-Kind cannot be included among Existents but must utterly rebel from the Essence of Real Beings and be therefore wholly something other than they — for they are Reason-Principles and possess Authentic Existence — it must inevitably, by virtue of that difference, retain its integrity to the point of being permanently closed against them and, more, of rejecting close participation in any image of them.

Only on these terms can it be completely different: once it took any Idea to hearth and home, it would become a new thing, for it would cease to be the thing apart, the ground of all else, the receptacle of absolutely any and every form. If there is to be a ceaseless coming into it and going out from it, itself must be unmoved and immune in all the come and go. The entrant Idea will enter as an image, the untrue entering the untruth.

But, at least, in a true entry?

No: How could there be a true entry into that which, by being falsity, is banned from ever touching truth?

Is this then a pseudo-entry into a pseudo-entity — something merely brought near, as faces enter the mirror, there to remain just as long as the people look into it?

Yes: if we eliminated the Authentic Existents from this Sphere nothing of all now seen in sense would appear one moment longer.

Here the mirror itself is seen, for it is itself an Ideal-Form of a Kind [has some degree of Real Being]; but bare Matter, which is no Idea, is not a visible thing; if it were, it would have been visible in its own character before anything else appeared upon it. The condition of Matter may be illustrated by that of air penetrated by light and remaining, even so, unseen because it is invisible whatever happens.

The reflections in the mirror are not taken to be real, all the less since the appliance on which they appear is seen and remains while the images disappear, but Matter is not seen either with the images or without them. But suppose the reflections on the mirror remaining and the mirror itself not seen, we would never doubt the solid reality of all that appears.

If, then, there is, really, something in a mirror, we may suppose objects of sense to be in Matter in precisely that way: if in the mirror there is nothing, if there is only a seeming of something, then we may judge that in Matter there is the same delusion and that the seeming is to be traced to the Substantial-Existence of the Real-Beings, that Substantial-Existence in which the Authentic has the real participation while only an unreal participation can belong to the unauthentic since their condition must differ from that which they would know if the parts were reversed, if the Authentic Existents were not and they were.

14. But would this mean that if there were no Matter nothing would exist?

Precisely as in the absence of a mirror, or something of similar power, there would be no reflection.

A thing whose very nature is to be lodged in something else cannot exist where the base is lacking — and it is the character of a reflection to appear in something not itself.

Of course supposing anything to desert from the Authentic Beings, this would not need an alien base: but these Beings are not subject to flux, and therefore any outside manifestation of them implies something other than themselves, something offering a base to what never enters, something which by its presence, in its insistence, by its cry for help, in its beggardom, strives as it were by violence to acquire and is always disappointed, so that its poverty is enduring, its cry unceasing.

This alien base exists and the myth represents it as a pauper to exhibit its nature, to show that Matter is destitute of The Good. The claimant does not ask for all the Giver’s store, but it welcomes whatever it can get; in other words, what appears in Matter is not Reality.

The name, too [Poverty], conveys that Matter’s need is never met. The union with Poros, Possession, is designed to show that Matter does not attain to Reality, to Plenitude, but to some bare sufficiency — in point of fact to imaging skill.

It is, of course, impossible that an outside thing belonging in any degree to Real-Being — whose Nature is to engender Real-Beings — should utterly fail of participation in Reality: but here we have something perplexing; we are dealing with utter Non-Being, absolutely without part in Reality; what is this participation by the non-participant, and how does mere neighbouring confer anything on that which by its own nature is precluded from any association?

The answer is that all that impinges upon this Non-Being is flung back as from a repelling substance; we may think of an Echo returned from a repercussive plane surface; it is precisely because of the lack of retention that the phenomenon is supposed to belong to that particular place and even to arise there.

If Matter were participant and received Reality to the extent which we are apt to imagine, it would be penetrated by a Reality thus sucked into its constitution. But we know that the Entrant is not thus absorbed: Matter remains as it was, taking nothing to itself: it is the check to the forthwelling of Authentic Existence; it is a ground that repels; it is a mere receptacle to the Realities as they take their common path and here meet and mingle. It resembles those reflecting vessels, filled with water, which are often set against the sun to produce fire: the heat rays — prevented, by their contrary within, from being absorbed — are flung out as one mass.

It is in this sense and way that Matter becomes the cause of the generated realm; the combinations within it hold together only after some such reflective mode.

15. Now the objects attracting the sun-rays to themselves — illuminated by a fire of the sense-order — are necessarily of the sense-order; there is perceptibility because there has been a union of things at once external to each other and continuous, contiguous, in direct contact, two extremes in one line. But the Reason-Principle operating upon Matter is external to it only in a very different mode and sense: exteriority in this case is amply supplied by contrariety of essence and can dispense with any opposite ends [any question of lineal position]; or, rather, the difference is one that actually debars any local extremity; sheer incongruity of essence, the utter failure in relationship, inhibits admixture [between Matter and any form of Being].

The reason, then, of the immutability of Matter is that the entrant principle neither possesses it nor is possessed by it. Consider, as an example, the mode in which an opinion or representation is present in the mind; there is no admixture; the notion that came goes in its time, still integrally itself alone, taking nothing with it, leaving nothing after it, because it has not been blended with the mind; there is no “outside” in the sense of contact broken, and the distinction between base and entrant is patent not to the senses but to the reason.

In that example, no doubt, the mental representation — though it seems to have a wide and unchecked control — is an image, while the Soul [Mind] is in its nature not an image [but a Reality]: none the less the Soul or Mind certainly stands to the concept as Matter, or in some analogous relation. The representation, however, does not cover the Mind over; on the contrary it is often expelled by some activity there; however urgently it presses in, it never effects such an obliteration as to be taken for the Soul; it is confronted there by indwelling powers, by Reason-Principles, which repel all such attack.

Matter — feebler far than the Soul for any exercise of power, and possessing no phase of the Authentic Existents, not even in possession of its own falsity — lacks the very means of manifesting itself, utter void as it is; it becomes the means by which other things appear, but it cannot announce its own presence. Penetrating thought may arrive at it, discriminating it from Authentic Existence; then, it is discerned as something abandoned by all that really is, by even the dimmest semblants of being, as a thing dragged towards every shape and property and appearing to follow — yet in fact not even following.

16. An Ideal-Principle approaches and leads Matter towards some desired dimension, investing this non-existent underlie with a magnitude from itself which never becomes incorporate — for Matter, if it really incorporated magnitude, would be a mass.

Eliminate this Ideal-Form and the substratum ceases to be a thing of magnitude, or to appear so: the mass produced by the Idea was, let us suppose, a man or a horse; the horse-magnitude came upon the Matter when a horse was produced upon it; when the horse ceases to exist upon the Matter, the magnitude of the horse departs also. If we are told that the horse implies a certain determined bulk and that this bulk is a permanent thing, we answer that what is permanent in this case is not the magnitude of the horse but the magnitude of mass in general. That same Magnitude might be fire or earth; on their disappearance their particular magnitudes would disappear with them. Matter, then, can never take to itself either pattern or magnitude; if it did, it would no longer be able to turn from being fire, let us say, into being something else; it would become and be fire once for all.

In a word, though Matter is far extended — so vastly as to appear co-extensive with all this sense-known Universe — yet if the Heavens and their content came to an end, all magnitude would simultaneously pass from Matter with, beyond a doubt, all its other properties; it would be abandoned to its own Kind, retaining nothing of all that which, in its own peculiar mode, it had hitherto exhibited.

Where an entrant force can effect modification it will inevitably leave some trace upon its withdrawal; but where there can be no modification, nothing can be retained; light comes and goes, and the air is as it always was.

That a thing essentially devoid of magnitude should come to a certain size is no more astonishing than that a thing essentially devoid of heat should become warm: Matter’s essential existence is quite separate from its existing in bulk, since, of course, magnitude is an immaterial principle as pattern is. Besides, if we are not to reduce Matter to nothing, it must be all things by way of participation, and Magnitude is one of those all things.

In bodies, necessarily compounds, Magnitude though not a determined Magnitude must be present as one of the constituents; it is implied in the very notion of body; but Matter — not a Body — excludes even undetermined Magnitude.

17. Nor can we, on the other hand, think that matter is simply Absolute Magnitude.

Magnitude is not, like Matter, a receptacle; it is an Ideal-Principle: it is a thing standing apart to itself, not some definite Mass. The fact is that the self-gathered content of the Intellectual Principle or of the All-Soul, desires expansion [and thereby engenders secondaries]: in its images — aspiring and moving towards it and eagerly imitating its act — is vested a similar power of reproducing their states in their own derivatives. The Magnitude latent in the expansive tendency of the Image-making phase [of Intellect or All-Soul] runs forth into the Absolute Magnitude of the Universe; this in turn enlists into the process the spurious magnitude of Matter: the content of the Supreme, thus, in virtue of its own prior extension enables Matter — which never possesses a content — to exhibit the appearance of Magnitude. It must be understood that spurious Magnitude consists in the fact that a thing [Matter] not possessing actual Magnitude strains towards it and has the extension of that straining. All that is Real Being gives forth a reflection of itself upon all else; every Reality, therefore, has Magnitude which by this process is communicated to the Universe.

The Magnitude inherent in each Ideal-Principle — that of a horse or of anything else — combines with Magnitude the Absolute with the result that, irradiated by that Absolute, Matter entire takes Magnitude and every particle of it becomes a mass; in this way, by virtue at once of the totality of Idea with its inherent magnitude and of each several specific Idea, all things appear under mass; Matter takes on what we conceive as extension; it is compelled to assume a relation to the All and, gathered under this Idea and under Mass, to be all things — in the degree in which the operating power can lead the really nothing to become all.

By the conditions of Manifestation, colour rises from non-colour [= from the colourless prototype of colour in the Ideal Realm]. Quality, known by the one name with its parallel in the sphere of Primals, rises, similarly, from non-quality: in precisely the same mode, the Magnitude appearing upon Matter rises from non-Magnitude or from that Primal which is known to us by the same name; so that material things become visible through standing midway between bare underlie and Pure Idea. All is perceptible by virtue of this origin in the Intellectual Sphere but all is falsity since the base in which the manifestation takes place is a non-existent.

Particular entities thus attain their Magnitude through being drawn out by the power of the Existents which mirror themselves and make space for themselves in them. And no violence is required to draw them into all the diversity of Shapes and Kinds because the phenomenal All exists by Matter [by Matter’s essential all-receptivity] and because each several Idea, moreover, draws Matter its own way by the power stored within itself, the power it holds from the Intellectual Realm. Matter is manifested in this sphere as Mass by the fact that it mirrors the Absolute Magnitude; Magnitude here is the reflection in the mirror. The Ideas meet all of necessity in Matter [the Ultimate of the emanatory progress]: and Matter, both as one total thing and in its entire scope, must submit itself, since it is the Material of the entire Here, not of any one determined thing: what is, in its own character, no determined thing may become determined by an outside force — though, in becoming thus determined, it does not become the definite thing in question, for thus it would lose its own characteristic indetermination.

18. The Ideal Principle possessing the Intellection [= Idea, Noesis] of Magnitude — assuming that this Intellection is of such power as not merely to subsist within itself but to be urged outward as it were by the intensity of its life — will necessarily realize itself in a Kind [= Matter] not having its being in the Intellective Principle, not previously possessing the Idea of Magnitude or any trace of that Idea or any other.

What then will it produce [in this Matter] by virtue of that power?

Not horse or cow: these are the product of other Ideas.

No: this Principle comes from the source of Magnitude [= is primal “Magnitude”] and therefore Matter can have no extension, in which to harbour the Magnitude of the Principle, but can take in only its reflected appearance.

To the thing which does not enjoy Magnitude in the sense of having mass-extension in its own substance and parts, the only possibility is that it present some partial semblance of Magnitude, such as being continuous, not here and there and everywhere, that its parts be related within it and ungapped. An adequate reflection of a great mass cannot be produced in a small space — mere size prevents — but the greater, pursuing the hope of that full self-presentment, makes progress towards it and brings about a nearer approach to adequate mirroring in the parallel from which it can never withhold its radiation: thus it confers Magnitude upon that [= Matter] which has none and cannot even muster up the appearance of having any, and the visible resultant exhibits the Magnitude of mass.

Matter, then, wears Magnitude as a dress thrown about it by its association with that Absolute Magnitude to whose movement it must answer; but it does not, for that, change its Kind; if the Idea which has clothed it were to withdraw, it would once again be what it permanently is, what it is by its own strength, or it would have precisely the Magnitude lent to it by any other form that happens to be present in it.

The [Universal] Soul — containing the Ideal Principles of Real-Beings, and itself an Ideal Principle — includes all in concentration within itself, just as the Ideal Principle of each particular entity is complete and self-contained: it, therefore, sees these principles of sensible things because they are turned, as it were, towards it and advancing to it: but it cannot harbour them in their plurality, for it cannot depart from its Kind; it sees them, therefore, stripped of Mass. Matter, on the contrary, destitute of resisting power since it has no Act of its own and is a mere shadow, can but accept all that an active power may choose to send. In what is thus sent, from the Reason-Principle in the Intellectual Realm, there is already contained a degree of the partial object that is to be formed: in the image-making impulse within the Reason-Principle there is already a step [towards the lower manifestation] or we may put it that the downward movement from the Reason-Principle is a first form of the partial: utter absence of partition would mean no movement but [sterile] repose. Matter cannot be the home of all things in concentration as the Soul is: if it were so, it would belong to the Intellective Sphere. It must be all-recipient but not in that partless mode. It is to be the Place of all things, and it must therefore extend universally, offer itself to all things, serve to all interval: thus it will be a thing unconfined to any moment [of space or time] but laid out in submission to all that is to be.

But would we not expect that some one particularized form should occupy Matter [at once] and so exclude such others as are not able to enter into combination?

No: for there is no first Idea except the Ideal Principle of the Universe — and, by this Idea, Matter is [the seat of] all things at once and of the particular thing in its parts — for the Matter of a living being is disparted according to the specific parts of the organism: if there were no such partition nothing would exist but the Reason-Principle.

19. The Ideal Principles entering into Matter as to a Mother [to be “born into the Universe”] affect it neither for better nor for worse.

Their action is not upon Matter but upon each other; these powers conflict with their opponent principles, not with their substrata — which it would be foolish to confuse with the entrant forms — Heat [the Principle] annuls Cold, and Blackness annuls Whiteness; or, the opponents blend to form an intermediate quality. Only that is affected which enters into combinations: being affected is losing something of self-identity.

In beings of soul and body, the affection occurs in the body, modified according to the qualities and powers presiding at the act of change: in all such dissolution of constituent parts, in the new combinations, in all variation from the original structure, the affection is bodily, the Soul or Mind having no more than an accompanying knowledge of the more drastic changes, or perhaps not even that. [Body is modified: Mind knows] but the Matter concerned remains unaffected; heat enters, cold leaves it, and it is unchanged because neither Principle is associated with it as friend or enemy.

So the appellation “Recipient and Nurse” is the better description: Matter is the mother only in the sense indicated; it has no begetting power. But probably the term Mother is used by those who think of a Mother as Matter to the offspring, as a container only, giving nothing to them, the entire bodily frame of the child being formed out of food. But if this Mother does give anything to the offspring it does so not in its quality as Matter but as being an Ideal-Form; for only the Idea is generative; the contrary Kind is sterile.

This, I think, is why the doctors of old, teaching through symbols and mystic representations, exhibit the ancient Hermes with the generative organ always in active posture; this is to convey that the generator of things of sense is the Intellectual Reason Principle: the sterility of Matter, eternally unmoved, is indicated by the eunuchs surrounding it in its representation as the All-Mother.

This too exalting title is conferred upon it in order to indicate that it is the source of things in the sense of being their underlie: it is an approximate name chosen for a general conception; there is no intention of suggesting a complete parallel with motherhood to those not satisfied with a surface impression but needing a precisely true presentment; by a remote symbolism, the nearest they could find, they indicate that Matter is sterile, not female to full effect, female in receptivity only, not in pregnancy: this they accomplish by exhibiting Matter as approached by what is neither female nor effectively male, but castrated of that impregnating power which belongs only to the unchangeably masculine.

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