The Six Enneads, by Plotinus

Second Tractate.

On the Essence of the Soul (2).

1. In our attempt to elucidate the Essence of the soul, we show it to be neither a material fabric nor, among immaterial things, a harmony. The theory that it is some final development, some entelechy, we pass by, holding this to be neither true as presented nor practically definitive.

No doubt we make a very positive statement about it when we declare it to belong to the Intellectual Kind, to be of the divine order; but a deeper penetration of its nature is demanded.

In that allocation we were distinguishing things as they fall under the Intellectual or the sensible, and we placed the soul in the former class; now, taking its membership of the Intellectual for granted, we must investigate by another path the more specific characteristics of its nature.

There are, we hold, things primarily apt to partition, tending by sheer nature towards separate existence: they are things in which no part is identical either with another part or with the whole, while, also their part is necessarily less than the total and whole: these are magnitudes of the realm of sense, masses, each of which has a station of its own so that none can be identically present in entirety at more than one point at one time.

But to that order is opposed Essence [Real-Being]; this is in no degree susceptible of partition; it is unparted and impartible; interval is foreign to it, cannot enter into our idea of it: it has no need of place and is not, in diffusion or as an entirety, situated within any other being: it is poised over all beings at once, and this is not in the sense of using them as a base but in their being neither capable nor desirous of existing independently of it; it is an essence eternally unvaried: it is common to all that follows upon it: it is like the circle’s centre to which all the radii are attached while leaving it unbrokenly in possession of itself, the starting point of their course and of their essential being, the ground in which they all participate: thus the indivisible is the principle of these divided existences and in their very outgoing they remain enduringly in contact with that stationary essence.

So far we have the primarily indivisible — supreme among the Intellectual and Authentically Existent — and we have its contrary, the Kind definitely divisible in things of sense; but there is also another Kind, of earlier rank than the sensible yet near to it and resident within it — an order, not, like body, primarily a thing of part, but becoming so upon incorporation. The bodies are separate, and the ideal form which enters them is correspondingly sundered while, still, it is present as one whole in each of its severed parts, since amid that multiplicity in which complete individuality has entailed complete partition, there is a permanent identity; we may think of colour, qualities of all kinds, some particular shape, which can be present in many unrelated objects at the one moment, each entire and yet with no community of experience among the various manifestations. In the case of such ideal-forms we may affirm complete partibility.

But, on the other hand, that first utterly indivisible Kind must be accompanied by a subsequent Essence, engendered by it and holding indivisibility from it but, in virtue of the necessary outgo from source, tending firmly towards the contrary, the wholly partible; this secondary Essence will take an intermediate Place between the first substance, the undivided, and that which is divisible in material things and resides in them. Its presence, however, will differ in one respect from that of colour and quantity; these, no doubt, are present identically and entire throughout diverse material masses, but each several manifestation of them is as distinct from every other as the mass is from the mass.

The magnitude present in any mass is definitely one thing, yet its identity from part to part does not imply any such community as would entail common experience; within that identity there is diversity, for it is a condition only, not the actual Essence.

The Essence, very near to the impartible, which we assert to belong to the Kind we are now dealing with, is at once an Essence and an entrant into body; upon embodiment, it experiences a partition unknown before it thus bestowed itself.

In whatsoever bodies it occupies — even the vastest of all, that in which the entire universe is included — it gives itself to the whole without abdicating its unity.

This unity of an Essence is not like that of body, which is a unit by the mode of continuous extension, the mode of distinct parts each occupying its own space. Nor is it such a unity as we have dealt with in the case of quality.

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

To have penetrated this idea is to know the greatness of the soul and its power, the divinity and wonder of its being, as a nature transcending the sphere of Things.

Itself devoid of mass, it is present to all mass: it exists here and yet is There, and this not in distinct phases but with unsundered identity: thus it is “parted and not parted,” or, better, it has never known partition, never become a parted thing, but remains a self-gathered integral, and is “parted among bodies” merely in the sense that bodies, in virtue of their own sundered existence, cannot receive it unless in some partitive mode; the partition, in other words, is an occurrence in body not in soul.

2. It can be demonstrated that soul must, necessarily, be of just this nature and that there can be no other soul than such a being, one neither wholly partible but both at once.

If it had the nature of body it would consist of isolated members each unaware of the conditions of every other; there would be a particular soul — say a soul of the finger — answering as a distinct and independent entity to every local experience; in general terms, there would be a multiplicity of souls administering each individual; and, moreover, the universe would be governed not by one soul but by an incalculable number, each standing apart to itself. But, without a dominant unity, continuity is meaningless.

The theory that “Impressions reach the leading-principle by progressive stages” must be dismissed as mere illusion.

In the first place, it affirms without investigation a “leading” phase of the soul.

What can justify this assigning of parts to the soul, the distinguishing one part from another? What quantity, or what difference of quality, can apply to a thing defined as a self-consistent whole of unbroken unity?

Again, would perception be vested in that leading principle alone, or in the other phases as well?

If a given experience bears only on that “leading principle,” it would not be felt as lodged in any particular members of the organism; if, on the other hand, it fastens on some other phase of the soul — one not constituted for sensation — that phase cannot transmit any experience to the leading principle, and there can be no sensation.

Again, suppose sensation vested in the “leading-principle” itself: then, a first alternative, it will be felt in some one part of that [some specifically sensitive phase], the other part excluding a perception which could serve no purpose; or, in the second alternative, there will be many distinct sensitive phases, an infinite number, with difference from one to another. In that second case, one sensitive phase will declare “I had this sensation primarily”; others will have to say “I felt the sensation that rose elsewhere”; but either the site of the experience will be a matter of doubt to every phase except the first, or each of the parts of the soul will be deceived into allocating the occurrence within its own particular sphere.

If, on the contrary, the sensation is vested not merely in the “leading principle,” but in any and every part of the soul, what special function raises the one rather than the other into that leading rank, or why is the sensation to be referred to it rather than elsewhere? And how, at this, account for the unity of the knowledge brought in by diverse senses, by eyes, by ears?

On the other hand, if the soul is a perfect unity — utterly strange to part, a self-gathered whole — if it continuously eludes all touch of multiplicity and divisibility — then, no whole taken up into it can ever be ensouled; soul will stand as circle-centre to every object [remote on the circumference], and the entire mass of a living being is soulless still.

There is, therefore, no escape: soul is, in the degree indicated, one and many, parted and impartible. We cannot question the possibility of a thing being at once a unity and multi-present, since to deny this would be to abolish the principle which sustains and administers the universe; there must be a Kind which encircles and supports all and conducts all with wisdom, a principle which is multiple since existence is multiple, and yet is one soul always since a container must be a unity: by the multiple unity of its nature, it will furnish life to the multiplicity of the series of an all; by its impartible unity, it will conduct a total to wise ends.

In the case of things not endowed with intelligence, the “leading-principle” is their mere unity — a lower reproduction of the soul’s efficiency.

This is the deeper meaning of the profound passage [in the Timaeus], where we read “By blending the impartible, eternally unchanging essence with that in division among bodies, he produced a third form of essence partaking of both qualities.”

Soul, therefore, is, in this definite sense, one and many; the Ideal-Form resident in body is many and one; bodies themselves are exclusively many; the Supreme is exclusively one.

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