The Six Enneads, by Plotinus

Ninth Tractate.

Are All Souls One?.

1. That the Soul of every individual is one thing we deduce from the fact that it is present entire at every point of the body — the sign of veritable unity — not some part of it here and another part there. In all sensitive beings the sensitive soul is an omnipresent unity, and so in the forms of vegetal life the vegetal soul is entire at each several point throughout the organism.

Now are we to hold similarly that your soul and mine and all are one, and that the same thing is true of the universe, the soul in all the several forms of life being one soul, not parcelled out in separate items, but an omnipresent identity?

If the soul in me is a unity, why need that in the universe be otherwise seeing that there is no longer any question of bulk or body? And if that, too, is one soul and yours, and mine, belongs to it, then yours and mine must also be one: and if, again, the soul of the universe and mine depend from one soul, once more all must be one.

What then in itself is this one soul?

First we must assure ourselves of the possibility of all souls being one as that of any given individual is.

It must, no doubt, seem strange that my soul and that of any and everybody else should be one thing only: it might mean my feelings being felt by someone else, my goodness another’s too, my desire, his desire, all our experience shared with each other and with the (one-souled) universe, so that the very universe itself would feel whatever I felt.

Besides how are we to reconcile this unity with the distinction of reasoning soul and unreasoning, animal soul and vegetal?

Yet if we reject that unity, the universe itself ceases to be one thing and souls can no longer be included under any one principle.

2. Now to begin with, the unity of soul, mine and another’s, is not enough to make the two totals of soul and body identical. An identical thing in different recipients will have different experiences; the identity Man, in me as I move and you at rest, moves in me and is stationary in you: there is nothing stranger, nothing impossible, in any other form of identity between you and me; nor would it entail the transference of my emotion to any outside point: when in any one body a hand is in pain, the distress is felt not in the other but in the hand as represented in the centralizing unity.

In order that my feelings should of necessity be yours, the unity would have to be corporeal: only if the two recipient bodies made one, would the souls feel as one.

We must keep in mind, moreover, that many things that happen even in one same body escape the notice of the entire being, especially when the bulk is large: thus in huge sea-beasts, it is said, the animal as a whole will be quite unaffected by some membral accident too slight to traverse the organism.

Thus unity in the subject of any experience does not imply that the resultant sensation will be necessarily felt with any force upon the entire being and at every point of it: some transmission of the experience may be expected, and is indeed undeniable, but a full impression on the sense there need not be.

That one identical soul should be virtuous in me and vicious in someone else is not strange: it is only saying that an identical thing may be active here and inactive there.

We are not asserting the unity of soul in the sense of a complete negation of multiplicity — only of the Supreme can that be affirmed — we are thinking of soul as simultaneously one and many, participant in the nature divided in body, but at the same time a unity by virtue of belonging to that Order which suffers no division.

In myself some experience occurring in a part of the body may take no effect upon the entire man but anything occurring in the higher reaches would tell upon the partial: in the same way any influx from the All upon the individual will have manifest effect since the points of sympathetic contact are numerous — but as to any operation from ourselves upon the All there can be no certainty.

3. Yet, looking at another set of facts, reflection tells us that we are in sympathetic relation to each other, suffering, overcome, at the sight of pain, naturally drawn to forming attachments; and all this can be due only to some unity among us.

Again, if spells and other forms of magic are efficient even at a distance to attract us into sympathetic relations, the agency can be no other than the one soul.

A quiet word induces changes in a remote object, and makes itself heard at vast distances — proof of the oneness of all things within the one soul.

But how reconcile this unity with the existence of a reasoning soul, an unreasoning, even a vegetal soul?

[It is a question of powers]: the indivisible phase is classed as reasoning because it is not in division among bodies, but there is the later phase, divided among bodies, but still one thing and distinct only so as to secure sense-perception throughout; this is to be classed as yet another power; and there is the forming and making phase which again is a power. But a variety of powers does not conflict with unity; seed contains many powers and yet it is one thing, and from that unity rises, again, a variety which is also a unity.

But why are not all the powers of this unity present everywhere?

The answer is that even in the case of the individual soul described, similarly, as permeating its body, sensation is not equally present in all the parts, reason does not operate at every point, the principle of growth is at work where there is no sensation — and yet all these powers join in the one soul when the body is laid aside.

The nourishing faculty as dependent from the All belongs also to the All-Soul: why then does it not come equally from ours?

Because what is nourished by the action of this power is a member of the All, which itself has sensation passively; but the perception, which is an intellectual judgement, is individual and has no need to create what already exists, though it would have done so had the power not been previously included, of necessity, in the nature of the All.

4. These reflections should show that there is nothing strange in that reduction of all souls to one. But it is still necessary to enquire into the mode and conditions of the unity.

Is it the unity of origin in a unity? And if so, is the one divided or does it remain entire and yet produce variety? and how can an essential being, while remaining its one self, bring forth others?

Invoking God to become our helper, let us assert, that the very existence of many souls makes certain that there is first one from which the many rise.

Let us suppose, even, the first soul to be corporeal.

Then [by the nature of body] the many souls could result only from the splitting up of that entity, each an entirely different substance: if this body-soul be uniform in kind, each of the resultant souls must be of the one kind; they will all carry the one Form undividedly and will differ only in their volumes. Now, if their being souls depended upon their volumes they would be distinct; but if it is ideal-form that makes them souls, then all are, in virtue of this Idea, one.

But this is simply saying that there is one identical soul dispersed among many bodies, and that, preceding this, there is yet another not thus dispersed, the source of the soul in dispersion which may be thought of as a widely repeated image of the soul in unity — much as a multitude of seals bear the impression of one ring. By that first mode the soul is a unit broken up into a variety of points: in the second mode it is incorporeal. Similarly if the soul were a condition or modification of body, we could not wonder that this quality — this one thing from one source — should be present in many objects. The same reasoning would apply if soul were an effect [or manifestation] of the Conjoint.

We, of course, hold it to be bodiless, an essential existence.

5. How then can a multitude of essential beings be really one?

Obviously either the one essence will be entire in all, or the many will rise from a one which remains unaltered and yet includes the one — many in virtue of giving itself, without self-abandonment, to its own multiplication.

It is competent thus to give and remain, because while it penetrates all things it can never itself be sundered: this is an identity in variety.

There is no reason for dismissing this explanation: we may think of a science with its constituents standing as one total, the source of all those various elements: again, there is the seed, a whole, producing those new parts in which it comes to its division; each of the new growths is a whole while the whole remains undiminished: only the material element is under the mode of part, and all the multiplicity remains an entire identity still.

It may be objected that in the case of science the constituents are not each the whole.

But even in the science, while the constituent selected for handling to meet a particular need is present actually and takes the lead, still all the other constituents accompany it in a potential presence, so that the whole is in every part: only in this sense [of particular attention] is the whole science distinguished from the part: all, we may say, is here simultaneously effected: each part is at your disposal as you choose to take it; the part invites the immediate interest, but its value consists in its approach to the whole.

The detail cannot be considered as something separate from the entire body of speculation: so treated it would have no technical or scientific value; it would be childish divagation. The one detail, when it is a matter of science, potentially includes all. Grasping one such constituent of his science, the expert deduces the rest by force of sequence.

[As a further illustration of unity in plurality] the geometrician, in his analysis, shows that the single proposition includes all the items that go to constitute it and all the propositions which can be developed from it.

It is our feebleness that leads to doubt in these matters; the body obscures the truth, but There all stands out clear and separate.

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