The Six Enneads, by Plotinus

Seventh Tractate.

The Immortality of the Soul.

1. Whether every human being is immortal or we are wholly destroyed, or whether something of us passes over to dissolution and destruction, while something else, that which is the true man, endures for ever — this question will be answered here for those willing to investigate our nature.

We know that man is not a thing of one only element; he has a soul and he has, whether instrument or adjunct in some other mode, a body: this is the first distinction; it remains to investigate the nature and essential being of these two constituents.

Reason tells us that the body as, itself too, a composite, cannot for ever hold together; and our senses show us it breaking up, wearing out, the victim of destructive agents of many kinds, each of its constituents going its own way, one part working against another, perverting, wrecking, and this especially when the material masses are no longer presided over by the reconciling soul.

And when each single constituent is taken as a thing apart, it is still not a unity; for it is divisible into shape and matter, the duality without which bodies at their very simplest cannot cohere.

The mere fact that, as material forms, they have bulk means that they can be lopped and crushed and so come to destruction.

If this body, then, is really a part of us, we are not wholly immortal; if it is an instrument of ours, then, as a thing put at our service for a certain time, it must be in its nature passing.

The sovereign principle, the authentic man, will be as Form to this Matter or as agent to this instrument, and thus, whatever that relation be, the soul is the man.

2. But of what nature is this sovereign principle?

If material, then definitely it must fall apart; for every material entity, at least, is something put together.

If it is not material but belongs to some other Kind, that new substance must be investigated in the same way or by some more suitable method.

But our first need is to discover into what this material form, since such the soul is to be, can dissolve.

Now: of necessity life is inherent to soul: this material entity, then, which we call soul must have life ingrained within it; but [being a composite as by hypothesis, material] it must be made up of two or more bodies; that life, then, will be vested, either in each and all of those bodies or in one of them to the exclusion of the other or others; if this be not so, then there is no life present anywhere.

If any one of them contains this ingrained life, that one is the soul. But what sort of an entity have we there; what is this body which of its own nature possesses soul?

Fire, air, water, earth, are in themselves soulless — whenever soul is in any of them, that life is borrowed — and there are no other forms of body than these four: even the school that believes there are has always held them to be bodies, not souls, and to be without life.

None of these, then, having life, it would be extraordinary if life came about by bringing them together; it is impossible, in fact, that the collocation of material entities should produce life, or mindless entities mind.

No one, moreover, would pretend that a mere chance mixing could give such results: some regulating principle would be necessary, some Cause directing the admixture: that guiding principle would be — soul.

Body — not merely because it is a composite, but even were it simplex — could not exist unless there were soul in the universe, for body owes its being to the entrance of a Reason-Principle into Matter, and only from soul can a Reason-Principle come.

3. Anyone who rejects this view, and holds that either atoms or some entities void of part coming together produce soul, is refuted by the very unity of soul and by the prevailing sympathy as much as by the very coherence of the constituents. Bodily materials, in nature repugnant to unification and to sensation, could never produce unity or self-sensitiveness, and soul is self-sensitive. And, again, constituents void of part could never produce body or bulk.

Perhaps we will be asked to consider body as a simple entity [disregarding the question of any constituent elements]: they will tell us, then, that no doubt, as purely material, it cannot have a self-springing life — since matter is without quality — but that life is introduced by the fact that the Matter is brought to order under Forming-Idea. But if by this Forming-Idea they mean an essential, a real being, then it is not the conjoint of body and idea that constitutes soul: it must be one of the two items and that one, being [by hypothesis] outside of the Matter, cannot be body: to make it body would simply force us to repeat our former analysis.

If on the contrary they do not mean by this Forming-Idea a real being, but some condition or modification of the Matter, they must tell us how and whence this modification, with resultant life, can have found the way into the Matter: for very certainly Matter does not mould itself to pattern or bring itself to life.

It becomes clear that since neither Matter nor body in any mode has this power, life must be brought upon the stage by some directing principle external and transcendent to all that is corporeal.

In fact, body itself could not exist in any form if soul-power did not: body passes; dissolution is in its very nature; all would disappear in a twinkling if all were body. It is no help to erect some one mode of body into soul; made of the same Matter as the rest, this soul body would fall under the same fate: of course it could never really exist: the universe of things would halt at the material, failing something to bring Matter to shape.

Nay more: Matter itself could not exist: the totality of things in this sphere is dissolved if it be made to depend upon the coherence of a body which, though elevated to the nominal rank of “soul,” remains air, fleeting breath [the Stoic pneuma, rarefied matter, “spirit” in the lower sense], whose very unity is not drawn from itself.

All bodies are in ceaseless process of dissolution; how can the kosmos be made over to any one of them without being turned into a senseless haphazard drift? This pneuma — orderless except under soul — how can it contain order, reason, intelligence? But: given soul, all these material things become its collaborators towards the coherence of the kosmos and of every living being, all the qualities of all the separate objects converging to the purposes of the universe: failing soul in the things of the universe, they could not even exist, much less play their ordered parts.

4. Our opponents themselves are driven by stress of fact to admit the necessity of a prior to body, a higher thing, some phase or form of soul; their “pneuma” [finer-body or spirit] is intelligent, and they speak of an “intellectual fire”; this “fire” and “spirit” they imagine to be necessary to the existence of the higher order which they conceive as demanding some base, though the real difficulty, under their theory, is to find a base for material things whose only possible base is, precisely, the powers of soul.

Besides, if they make life and soul no more than this “pneuma,” what is the import of that repeated qualification of theirs “in a certain state,” their refuge when they are compelled to recognize some acting principle apart from body? If not every pneuma is a soul, but thousands of them soulless, and only the pneuma in this “certain state” is soul, what follows? Either this “certain state,” this shaping or configuration of things, is a real being or it is nothing.

If it is nothing, only the pneuma exists, the “certain state” being no more than a word; this leads imperatively to the assertion that Matter alone exists, Soul and God mere words, the lowest alone is.

If on the contrary this “configuration” is really existent — something distinct from the underlie or Matter, something residing in Matter but itself immaterial as not constructed out of Matter, then it must be a Reason-Principle, incorporeal, a separate Nature.

There are other equally cogent proofs that the soul cannot be any form of body.

Body is either warm or cold, hard or soft, liquid or solid, black or white, and so on through all the qualities by which one is different from another; and, again, if a body is warm it diffuses only warmth, if cold it can only chill, if light its presence tells against the total weight which if heavy it increases; black, it darkens; white, it lightens; fire has not the property of chilling or a cold body that of warming.

Soul, on the contrary, operates diversely in different living beings, and has quite contrary effects in any one: its productions contain the solid and the soft, the dense and the sparse, bright and dark, heavy and light. If it were material, its quality — and the colour it must have — would produce one invariable effect and not the variety actually observed.

5. Again, there is movement: all bodily movement is uniform; failing an incorporeal soul, how account for diversity of movement? Predilections, reasons, they will say; that is all very well, but these already contain that variety and therefore cannot belong to body which is one and simplex, and, besides, is not participant in reason — that is, not in the sense here meant, but only as it is influenced by some principle which confers upon it the qualities of, for instance, being warm or cold.

Then there is growth under a time-law, and within a definite limit: how can this belong strictly to body? Body can indeed be brought to growth, but does not itself grow except in the sense that in the material mass a capacity for growing is included as an accessory to some principle whose action upon the body causes growth.

Supposing the soul to be at once a body and the cause of growth, then, if it is to keep pace with the substance it augments, it too must grow; that means it must add to itself a similar bodily material. For the added material must be either soul or soulless body: if soul, whence and how does it enter, and by what process is it adjoined [to the soul which by hypothesis is body]; if soulless, how does such an addition become soul, falling into accord with its precedent, making one thing with it, sharing the stored impressions and notions of that initial soul instead, rather, of remaining an alien ignoring all the knowledge laid up before?

Would not such a soulless addition be subject to just such loss and gain of substance, in fact to the non-identity, which marks the rest of our material mass?

And, if this were so, how explain our memories or our recognition of familiar things when we have no stably identical soul?

Assume soul to be a body: now in the nature of body, characteristically divisible, no one of the parts can be identical with the entire being; soul, then, is a thing of defined size, and if curtailed must cease to be what it is; in the nature of a quantitative entity this must be so, for, if a thing of magnitude on diminution retains its identity in virtue of its quality, this is only saying that bodily and quantitatively it is different even if its identity consists in a quality quite independent of quantity.

What answer can be made by those declaring soul to be corporeal? Is every part of the soul, in any one body, soul entire, soul perfectly true to its essential being? and may the same be said of every part of the part? If so, the magnitude makes no contribution to the soul’s essential nature, as it must if soul [as corporeal] were a definite magnitude: it is, as body cannot be, an “all-everywhere,” a complete identity present at each and every point, the part all that the whole is.

To deny that every part is soul is to make soul a compound from soulless elements. Further, if a definite magnitude, the double limit of larger or smaller, is to be imposed upon each separate soul, then anything outside those limits is no soul.

Now, a single coition and a single sperm suffice to a twin birth or in the animal order to a litter; there is a splitting and diverging of the seed, every diverging part being obviously a whole: surely no honest mind can fail to gather that a thing in which part is identical with whole has a nature which transcends quantity, and must of necessity be without quantity: only so could it remain identical when quantity is filched from it, only by being indifferent to amount or extension, by being in essence something apart. Thus the Soul and the Reason-Principles are without quantity.

6. It is easy to show that if the Soul were a corporeal entity, there could be no sense-perception, no mental act, no knowledge, no moral excellence, nothing of all that is noble.

There can be no perception without a unitary percipient whose identity enables it to grasp an object as an entirety.

The several senses will each be the entrance point of many diverse perceptions; in any one object there may be many characteristics; any one organ may be the channel of a group of objects, as for instance a face is known not by a special sense for separate features, nose, eyes; etc., but by one sense observing all in one act.

When sight and hearing gather their varying information, there must be some central unity to which both report. How could there be any statement of difference unless all sense-impressions appeared before a common identity able to take the sum of all?

This there must be, as there is a centre to a circle; the sense-impressions converging from every point of occurrence will be as lines striking from a circumference to what will be a true centre of perception as being a veritable unity.

If this centre were to break into separate points — so that the sense-impressions fell upon the two ends of a line — then, either it must reknit itself to unity and identity, perhaps at the mid-point of the line, or all remains unrelated, every end receiving the report of its particular field exactly as you and I have our distinct sense experiences.

Suppose the sense-object be such a unity as a face: all the points of observation must be brought together in one visual total, as is obvious since there could be no panorama of great expanses unless the detail were compressed to the capacity of the pupils.

Much more must this be true in the case of thoughts, partless entities as they are, impinging upon the centre of consciousness which [to receive them] must itself be void of part.

Either this or, supposing the centre of consciousness to be a thing of quantity and extension, the sensible object will coincide with it point by point of their co-expansion so that any given point in the faculty will perceive solely what coincides with it in the object: and thus nothing in us could perceive any thing as a whole.

This cannot be: the faculty entire must be a unity; no such dividing is possible; this is no matter in which we can think of equal sections coinciding; the centre of consciousness has no such relation of equality with any sensible object. The only possible ratio of divisibility would be that of the number of diverse elements in the impinging sensation: are we then to suppose that each part of the soul, and every part of each part, will have perception? Or will the part of the parts have none? That is impossible: every part, then, has perception; the [hypothetical] magnitude, of soul and each part of soul, is infinitely divisible; there will therefore be in each part an infinite number of perceptions of the object, and therefore an infinitude of representations of it at our centre of consciousness.

If the sentient be a material entity sensation could only be of the order of seal-impressions struck by a ring on wax, in this case by sensible objects on the blood or on the intervenient air.

If, at this, the impression is like one made in liquids — as would be reasonable — it will be confused and wavering as upon water, and there can be no memory. If the impressions are permanent, then either no fresh ones can be stamped upon the occupied ground — and there can be no change of sensations — or, others being made, the former will be obliterated; and all record of the past is done away with.

If memory implies fresh sensations imposed upon former ones, the earlier not barring their way, the soul cannot be a material entity.

7. We come to the same result by examining the sense of pain. We say there is pain in the finger: the trouble is doubtless in the finger, but our opponents must admit that the sensation of the pain is in the centre of consciousness. The suffering member is one thing, the sense of suffering is another: how does this happen?

By transmission, they will say: the psychic pneuma [= the semi-material principle of life] stationed at the finger suffers first; and stage by stage the trouble is passed on until at last it reaches the centre of consciousness.

But on this theory, there must be a sensation in the spot first suffering pain, and another sensation at a second point of the line of transmission, another in the third and so on; many sensations, in fact an unlimited series, to deal with one pain; and at the last moment the centre of consciousness has the sensation of all these sensations and of its own sensation to boot. Or to be exact, these serial sensations will not be of the pain in the finger: the sensation next in succession to the suffering finger will be of pain at the joint, a third will tell of a pain still higher up: there will be a series of separate pains: The centre of consciousness will not feel the pain seated at the finger, but only that impinging upon itself: it will know this alone, ignore the rest and so have no notion that the finger is in pain.

Thus: Transmission would not give sensation of the actual condition at the affected spot: it is not in the nature of body that where one part suffers there should be knowledge in another part; for body is a magnitude, and the parts of every magnitude are distinct parts; therefore we need, as the sentient, something of a nature to be identical to itself at any and every spot; this property can belong only to some other form of being than body.

8. It can be shown also that the intellectual act would similarly be impossible if the soul were any form of body.

If sensation is apprehension by means of the soul’s employment of the body, intellection cannot be a similar use of the body or it would be identical with sensation. If then intellection is apprehension apart from body, much more must there be a distinction between the body and the intellective principle: sensation for objects of sense, intellection for the intellectual object. And even if this be rejected, it must still be admitted that there do exist intellections of intellectual objects and perceptions of objects not possessing magnitude: how, we may then ask, can a thing of magnitude know a thing that has no magnitude, or how can the partless be known by means of what has parts? We will be told “By some partless part.” But, at this, the intellective will not be body: for contact does not need a whole; one point suffices. If then it be conceded — and it cannot be denied — that the primal intellections deal with objects completely incorporeal, the principle of intellection itself must know by virtue of being, or becoming, free from body. Even if they hold that all intellection deals with the ideal forms in Matter, still it always takes place by abstraction from the bodies [in which these forms appear] and the separating agent is the Intellectual-Principle. For assuredly the process by which we abstract circle, triangle, line or point, is not carried through by the aid of flesh or Matter of any kind; in all such acts the soul or mind must separate itself from the material: at once we see that it cannot be itself material. Similarly it will be agreed that, as beauty and justice are things without magnitude, so must be the intellective act that grasps them.

When such non-magnitudes come before the soul, it receives them by means of its partless phase and they will take position there in partless wise.

Again: if the Soul is a body, how can we account for its virtues — moral excellence [Sophrosyne], justice, courage and so forth? All these could be only some kind of rarefied body [pneuma], or blood in some form; or we might see courage as a certain resisting power in that pneuma; moral quality would be its happy blending; beauty would lie wholly in the agreeable form of impressions received, such comeliness as leads us to describe people as attractive and beautiful from their bodily appearance. No doubt strength and grace of form go well enough with the idea of rarefied body; but what can this rarefied body want with moral excellence? On the contrary its interest would lie in being comfortable in its environments and contacts, in being warmed or pleasantly cool, in bringing everything smooth and caressing and soft around it: what could it care about a just distribution?

Then consider the objects of the soul’s contemplation, virtue and the other Intellectual forms with which it is occupied; are these eternal or are we to think that virtue rises here or there, helps, then perishes? These things must have an author and a source and there, again, we are confronted by something perdurable: the soul’s contemplation, then, must be of the eternal and unchanging, like the concepts of geometry: if eternal and unchanging, these objects are not bodies: and that which is to receive them must be of equivalent nature: it cannot therefore be body, since all body-nature lacks permanence, is a thing of flux.

8. A. [sometimes appearing as 9] There are those who insist on the activities observed in bodies — warming, chilling, thrusting, pressing — and class soul with body, as it were to assure its efficacy. This ignores the double fact that the very bodies themselves exercise such efficiency by means of the incorporeal powers operating in them, and that these are not the powers we attribute to soul: intellection, perception, reasoning, desire, wise and effective action in all regards, these point to a very different form of being.

In transferring to bodies the powers of the unembodied, this school leaves nothing to that higher order. And yet that it is precisely in virtue of bodiless powers that bodies possess their efficiency is clear from certain reflections:

It will be admitted that quality and quantity are two different things, that body is always a thing of quantity but not always a thing of quality: matter is not qualified. This admitted, it will not be denied that quality, being a different thing from quantity, is a different thing from body. Obviously quality could not be body when it has not quantity as all body must; and, again, as we have said, body, any thing of mass, on being reduced to fragments, ceases to be what it was, but the quality it possessed remains intact in every particle — for instance the sweetness of honey is still sweetness in each speck — this shows that sweetness and all other qualities are not body.

Further: if the powers in question were bodies, then necessarily the stronger powers would be large masses and those less efficient small masses: but if there are large masses with small while not a few of the smaller masses manifest great powers, then the efficiency must be vested in something other than magnitude; efficacy, thus, belongs to non-magnitude. Again; Matter, they tell us, remains unchanged as long as it is body, but produces variety upon accepting qualities; is not this proof enough that the entrants [with whose arrival the changes happen] are Reason-Principles and not of the bodily order?

They must not remind us that when pneuma and blood are no longer present, animals die: these are necessary no doubt to life, but so are many other things of which none could possibly be soul: and neither pneuma nor blood is present throughout the entire being; but soul is.

8. B. (10) If the soul is body and permeates the entire body-mass, still even in this entire permeation the blending must be in accord with what occurs in all cases of bodily admixing.

Now: if in the admixing of bodies neither constituent can retain its efficacy, the soul too could no longer be effective within the bodies; it could but be latent; it will have lost that by which it is soul, just as in an admixture of sweet and bitter the sweet disappears: we have, thus, no soul.

Two bodies [i.e., by hypothesis, the soul and the human body] are blended, each entire through the entirety of the other; where the one is, the other is also; each occupies an equal extension and each the whole extension; no increase of size has been caused by the juncture: the one body thus inblended can have left in the other nothing undivided. This is no case of mixing in the sense of considerable portions alternating; that would be described as collocation; no; the incoming entity goes through the other to the very minutest point — an impossibility, of course; the less becoming equal to the greater; still, all is traversed throughout and divided throughout. Now if, thus, the inblending is to occur point by point, leaving no undivided material anywhere, the division of the body concerned must have been a division into (geometrical) points: an impossibility. The division is an infinite series — any material particle may be cut in two — and the infinities are not merely potential, they are actual.

Therefore body cannot traverse anything as a whole traversing a whole. But soul does this. It is therefore incorporeal.

8. C. (11) We come to the theory that this pneuma is an earlier form, one which on entering the cold and being tempered by it develops into soul by growing finer under that new condition. This is absurd at the start, since many living beings rise in warmth and have a soul that has been tempered by cold: still that is the theory — the soul has an earlier form, and develops its true nature by force of external accidents. Thus these teachers make the inferior precede the higher, and before that inferior they put something still lower, their “Habitude.” It is obvious that the Intellectual-Principle is last and has sprung from the soul, for, if it were first of all, the order of the series must be, second the soul, then the nature-principle, and always the later inferior, as the system actually stands.

If they treat God as they do the Intellectual-Principle — as later, engendered and deriving intellection from without — soul and intellect and God may prove to have no existence: this would follow if a potentiality could not come to existence, or does not become actual, unless the corresponding actuality exists. And what could lead it onward if there were no separate being in previous actuality? Even on the absurd supposition that the potentially existent brings itself to actuality, it must be looking to some Term, and that must be no potentiality but actual.

No doubt the eternally self-identical may have potentiality and be self-led to self-realization, but even in this case the being considered as actualized is of higher order than the being considered as merely capable of actualization and moving towards a desired Term.

Thus the higher is the earlier, and it has a nature other than body, and it exists always in actuality: Intellectual-Principle and Soul precede Nature: thus, Soul does not stand at the level of pneuma or of body.

These arguments are sufficient in themselves, though many others have been framed, to show that the soul is not to be thought of as a body.

8. D. (12) Soul belongs, then, to another Nature: What is this? Is it something which, while distinct from body, still belongs to it, for example a harmony or accord?

The Pythagorean school holds this view thinking that the soul is, with some difference, comparable to the accord in the strings of a lyre. When the lyre is strung a certain condition is produced upon the strings, and this is known as accord: in the same way our body is formed of distinct constituents brought together, and the blend produces at once life and that soul which is the condition existing upon the bodily total.

That this opinion is untenable has already been shown at length. The soul is a prior [to body], the accord is a secondary to the lyre. Soul rules, guides and often combats the body; as an accord of body it could not do these things. Soul is a real being, accord is not. That due blending [or accord] of the corporeal materials which constitute our frame would be simply health. Each separate part of the body, entering as a distinct entity into the total, would require a distinct soul [its own accord or note], so that there would be many souls to each person. Weightiest of all; before this soul there would have to be another soul to bring about the accord as, in the case of the musical instrument, there is the musician who produces the accord upon the strings by his own possession of the principle on which he tunes them: neither musical strings nor human bodies could put themselves in tune.

Briefly, the soulless is treated as ensouled, the unordered becomes orderly by accident, and instead of order being due to soul, soul itself owes its substantial existence to order — which is self-caused. Neither in the sphere of the partial, nor in that of Wholes could this be true. The soul, therefore, is not a harmony or accord.

8. E. (13) We come to the doctrine of the Entelechy, and must enquire how it is applied to soul.

It is thought that in the Conjoint of body and soul the soul holds the rank of Form to the Matter which here is the ensouled body — not, then, Form to every example of body or to body as merely such, but to a natural organic body having the potentiality of life.

Now; if the soul has been so injected as to be assimilated into the body as the design of a statue is worked into the bronze, it will follow that, upon any dividing of the body, the soul is divided with it, and if any part of the body is cut away a fragment of soul must go with it. Since an Entelechy must be inseparable from the being of which it is the accomplished actuality, the withdrawal of the soul in sleep cannot occur; in fact sleep itself cannot occur. Moreover if the soul is an Entelechy, there is an end to the resistance offered by reason to the desires; the total [of body and Entelechy-Soul] must have one-uniform experience throughout, and be aware of no internal contradiction. Sense-perception might occur; but intellection would be impossible. The very upholders of the Entelechy are thus compelled to introduce another soul, the Intellect, to which they ascribe immortality. The reasoning soul, then, must be an Entelechy — if the word is to be used at all — in some other mode.

Even the sense-perceiving soul, in its possession of the impressions of absent objects, must hold these without aid from the body; for otherwise the impression must be present in it like shape and images, and that would mean that it could not take in fresh impressions; the perceptive soul, then, cannot be described as this Entelechy inseparable from the body. Similarly the desiring principle, dealing not only with food and drink but with things quite apart from body; this also is no inseparable Entelechy.

There remains the vegetal principle which might seem to suggest the possibility that, in this phase, the soul may be the inseparable Entelechy of the doctrine. But it is not so. The principle of every growth lies at the root; in many plants the new springing takes place at the root or just above it: it is clear that the life-principle, the vegetal soul, has abandoned the upper portions to concentrate itself at that one spot: it was therefore not present in the whole as an inseparable Entelechy. Again, before the plant’s development the life-principle is situated in that small beginning: if, thus, it passes from large growth to small and from the small to the entire growth, why should it not pass outside altogether?

An Entelechy is not a thing of parts; how then could it be present partwise in the partible body?

An identical soul is now the soul of one living being now of another: how could the soul of the first become the soul of the latter if soul were the Entelechy of one particular being? Yet that this transference does occur is evident from the facts of animal metasomatosis.

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

What, then, is the soul’s Being? If it is neither body nor a state or experience of body, but is act and creation: if it holds much and gives much, and is an existence outside of body; of what order and character must it be? Clearly it is what we describe as Veritable Essence. The other order, the entire corporeal Kind, is process; it appears and it perishes; in reality it never possesses Being, but is merely protected, in so far as it has the capacity, by participating in what authentically is.

9. (14) Over against that body, stands the principle which is self-caused, which is all that neither enters into being nor passes away, the principle whose dissolution would mean the end of all things never to be restored if once this had ceased to be, the sustaining principle of things individually, and of this kosmos, which owes its maintenance and its ordered system to the soul.

This is the starting point of motion and becomes the leader and provider of motion to all else: it moves by its own quality, and every living material form owes life to this principle, which of itself lives in a life that, being essentially innate, can never fail.

Not all things can have a life merely at second hand; this would give an infinite series: there must be some nature which, having life primally, shall be of necessity indestructible, immortal, as the source of life to all else that lives. This is the point at which all that is divine and blessed must be situated, living and having being of itself, possessing primal being and primal life, and in its own essence rejecting all change, neither coming to be nor passing away.

Whence could such a being arise or into what could it disappear: the very word, strictly used, means that the thing is perdurable. Similarly white, the colour, cannot be now white and now not white: if this “white” were a real being it would be eternal as well as being white: the colour is merely white but whatsoever possesses being, indwelling by nature and primal, will possess also eternal duration. In such an entity this primal and eternal Being cannot be dead like stone or plank: it must be alive, and that with a life unalloyed as long as it remains self-gathered: when the primal Being blends with an inferior principle, it is hampered in its relation to the highest, but without suffering the loss of its own nature since it can always recover its earliest state by turning its tendency back to its own.

10. (15) That the soul is of the family of the diviner nature, the eternal, is clear from our demonstration that it is not material: besides it has neither shape or colour nor is it tangible. But there are other proofs.

Assuming that the divine and the authentically existent possesses a life beneficent and wise, we take the next step and begin with working out the nature of our own soul.

Let us consider a soul, not one that has appropriated the unreasoned desires and impulses of the bodily life, or any other such emotion and experience, but one that has cast all this aside, and as far as possible has no commerce with the bodily. Such a soul demonstrates that all evil is accretion, alien, and that in the purged soul the noble things are immanent, wisdom and all else that is good, as its native store.

If this is the soul once it has returned to its self, how deny that it is the nature we have identified with all the divine and eternal? Wisdom and authentic virtue are divine, and could not be found in the chattel mean and mortal: what possesses these must be divine by its very capacity of the divine, the token of kinship and of identical substance.

Hence, too, any one of us that exhibits these qualities will differ but little as far as soul is concerned from the Supernals; he will be less than they only to the extent in which the soul is, in him, associated with body.

This is so true that, if every human being were at that stage, or if a great number lived by a soul of that degree, no one would be so incredulous as to doubt that the soul in man is immortal. It is because we see everywhere the spoiled souls of the great mass that it becomes difficult to recognize their divinity and immortality.

To know the nature of a thing we must observe it in its unalloyed state, since any addition obscures the reality. Clear, then look: or, rather, let a man first purify himself and then observe: he will not doubt his immortality when he sees himself thus entered into the pure, the Intellectual. For, what he sees is an Intellectual-Principle looking on nothing of sense, nothing of this mortality, but by its own eternity having intellection of the eternal: he will see all things in this Intellectual substance, himself having become an Intellectual Kosmos and all lightsome, illuminated by the truth streaming from The Good, which radiates truth upon all that stands within that realm of the divine.

Thus he will often feel the beauty of that word “Farewell: I am to you an immortal God,” for he has ascended to the Supreme, and is all one strain to enter into likeness with it.

If the purification puts the human into knowledge of the highest, then, too, the science latent within becomes manifest, the only authentic knowing. For it is not by running hither and thither outside of itself that the soul understands morality and right conduct: it learns them of its own nature, in its contact with itself, in its intellectual grasp of itself, seeing deeply impressed upon it the images of its primal state; what was one mass of rust from long neglect it has restored to purity.

Imagine living gold: it files away all that is earthy about it, all that kept it in self-ignorance preventing it from knowing itself as gold; seen now unalloyed it is at once filled with admiration of its worth and knows that it has no need of any other glory than its own, triumphant if only it be allowed to remain purely to itself.

11. (16) What intelligent mind can doubt the immortality of such a value, one in which there is a life self-springing and therefore not to be destroyed?

This is at any rate a life not imported from without, not present in the mode of the heat in fire — for if heat is characteristic of the fire proper, it certainly is adventitious to the Matter underlying the fire; or fire, too, would be everlasting — it is not in any such mode that the soul has life: this is no case of a Matter underlying and a life brought into that Matter and making it into soul [as heat comes into matter and makes it fire].

Either life is Essential Reality, and therefore self-living — the very thing we have been seeking — and undeniably immortal: or it, too, is a compound and must be traced back through all the constituents until an immortal substance is reached, something deriving movement from itself, and therefore debarred from accepting death.

Even supposing life could be described as a condition imposed upon Matter, still the source from which this condition entered the Matter must necessarily be admitted to be immortal simply by being unable to take into itself the opposite of the life which it conveys.

Of course, life is no such mere condition, but an independent principle, effectively living.

12. (17) A further consideration is that if every soul is to be held dissoluble the universe must long since have ceased to be: if it is pretended that one kind of soul, our own for example, is mortal, and another, that of the All, let us suppose, is immortal, we demand to know the reason of the difference alleged.

Each is a principle of motion, each is self-living, each touches the same sphere by the same tentacles, each has intellection of the celestial order and of the super-celestial, each is seeking to win to what has essential being, each is moving upwards to the primal source.

Again: the soul’s understanding of the Absolute Forms by means of the visions stored up in it is effected within itself; such perception is reminiscence; the soul then must have its being before embodiment, and drawing on an eternal science, must itself be eternal.

Every dissoluble entity, that has come to be by way of groupment, must in the nature of things be broken apart by that very mode which brought it together: but the soul is one and simplex, living not in the sense of potential reception of life but by its own energy; and this can be no cause of dissolution.

But, we will be told, it tends to destruction by having been divided (in the body) and so becoming fragmentary.

No: the soul, as we have shown, is not a mass, not a quantity.

May not it change and so come to destruction?

No: the change that destroys annuls the form but leaves the underlying substance: and that could not happen to anything except a compound.

If it can be destroyed in no such ways, it is necessarily indestructible.

13. (18) But how does the soul enter into body from the aloofness of the Intellectual?

There is the Intellectual-Principle which remains among the intellectual beings, living the purely intellective life; and this, knowing no impulse or appetite, is for ever stationary in that Realm. But immediately following upon it, there is that which has acquired appetite and, by this accruement, has already taken a great step outward; it has the desire of elaborating order on the model of what it has seen in the Intellectual-Principle: pregnant by those Beings, and in pain to the birth, it is eager to make, to create. In this new zest it strains towards the realm of sense: thus, while this primal soul in union with the Soul of the All transcends the sphere administered, it is inevitably turned outward, and has added the universe to its concern: yet in choosing to administer the partial and exiling itself to enter the place in which it finds its appropriate task, it still is not wholly and exclusively held by body: it is still in possession of the unembodied; and the Intellectual-Principle in it remains immune. As a whole it is partly in body, partly outside: it has plunged from among the primals and entered this sphere of tertiaries: the process has been an activity of the Intellectual-Principle, which thus, while itself remaining in its identity, operates throughout the soul to flood the universe with beauty and penetrant order — immortal mind, eternal in its unfailing energy, acting through immortal soul.

14. (19) As for the souls of the other living beings, fallen to the degree of entering brute bodies, these too must be immortal. And if there is in the animal world any other phase of soul, its only possible origin, since it is the life-giver, is, still, that one principle of life: so too with the soul in the vegetal order.

All have sprung from one source, all have life as their own, all are incorporeal, indivisible, all are real-beings.

If we are told that man’s soul being tripartite must as a compound entity be dissolved, our answer shall be that pure souls upon their emancipation will put away all that has fastened to them at birth, all that increment which the others will long retain.

But even that inferior phase thus laid aside will not be destroyed as long as its source continues to exist, for nothing from the realm of real being shall pass away.

15. (20) Thus far we have offered the considerations appropriate to those asking for demonstration: those whose need is conviction by evidence of the more material order are best met from the abundant records relevant to the subject: there are also the oracles of the Gods ordering the appeasing of wronged souls and the honouring of the dead as still sentient, a practice common to all mankind: and again, not a few souls, once among men, have continued to serve them after quitting the body and by revelations, practically helpful, make clear, as well, that the other souls, too, have not ceased to be.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/p/plotinus/p72e/part4.7.html

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