The Six Enneads, by Plotinus

Ninth Tractate.

The Intellectual-Principle, the Ideas, and the Authentic Existence.

1. All human beings from birth onward live to the realm of sense more than to the Intellectual.

Forced of necessity to attend first to the material, some of them elect to abide by that order and, their life throughout, make its concerns their first and their last; the sweet and the bitter of sense are their good and evil; they feel they have done all if they live along pursuing the one and barring the doors to the other. And those of them that pretend to reasoning have adopted this as their philosophy; they are like the heavier birds which have incorporated much from the earth and are so weighted down that they cannot fly high for all the wings Nature has given them.

Others do indeed lift themselves a little above the earth; the better in their soul urges them from the pleasant to the nobler, but they are not of power to see the highest and so, in despair of any surer ground, they fall back in virtue’s name, upon those actions and options of the lower from which they sought to escape.

But there is a third order — those godlike men who, in their mightier power, in the keenness of their sight, have clear vision of the splendour above and rise to it from among the cloud and fog of earth and hold firmly to that other world, looking beyond all here, delighted in the place of reality, their native land, like a man returning after long wanderings to the pleasant ways of his own country.

2. What is this other place and how it is accessible?

It is to be reached by those who, born with the nature of the lover, are also authentically philosophic by inherent temper; in pain of love towards beauty but not held by material loveliness, taking refuge from that in things whose beauty is of the soul — such things as virtue, knowledge, institutions, law and custom — and thence, rising still a step, reach to the source of this loveliness of the Soul, thence to whatever be above that again, until the uttermost is reached. The First, the Principle whose beauty is self-springing: this attained, there is an end to the pain inassuageable before.

But how is the ascent to be begun? Whence comes the power? In what thought is this love to find its guide?

The guiding thought is this: that the beauty perceived on material things is borrowed.

The pattern giving beauty to the corporeal rests upon it as Idea to its Matter and the substrate may change and from being pleasant become distasteful, a sign, in all reason, that the beauty comes by participation.

Now, what is this that gives grace to the corporeal?

Two causes in their degree; the participation in beauty and the power of Soul, the maker, which has imprinted that form.

We ask then is soul, of itself, a thing of beauty: we find it is not since differences are manifest, one Soul wise and lovely, another foolish and ugly: soul-beauty is constituted by wisdom.

The question thus becomes, “What principle is the giver of wisdom to the soul? and the only answer is “The Intellectual-Principle,” the veritably intellectual, wise without intermission and therefore beautiful of itself.

But does even this suffice for our First?

No; we must look still inward beyond the Intellectual, which, from our point of approach, stands before the Supreme Beginning, in whose forecourt, as it were, it announces in its own being the entire content of the Good, that prior of all, locked in unity, of which this is the expression already touched by multiplicity.

3. We will have to examine this Nature, the Intellectual, which our reasoning identifies as the authentically existent and the veritable essential: but first we must take another path and make certain that such a principle does necessarily exist.

Perhaps it is ridiculous to set out enquiring whether an Intellectual-Principle has place in the total of being: but there may be some to hesitate even as to this and certainly there will be the question whether it is as we describe it, whether it is a separate existence, whether it actually is the real beings, whether it is the seat of the Ideas; to this we now address ourselves.

All that we see, and describe as having existence, we know to be compound; hand-wrought or compacted by nature, nothing is simplex. Now the hand-wrought, with its metal or stone or wood, is not realized out of these materials until the appropriate craft has produced statue, house or bed, by imparting the particular idea from its own content. Similarly with natural forms of being; those including several constituents, compound bodies as we call them, may be analysed into the materials and the Idea imposed upon the total; the human being, for example, into soul and body; and the human body into the four elements. Finding everything to be a compound of Matter and shaping principle — since the Matter of the elements is of itself shapeless — you will enquire whence this forming idea comes; and you will ask whether in the soul we recognise a simplex or whether this also has constituents, something representing Matter and something else — the Intellectual-Principle in it — representing Idea, the one corresponding to the shape actually on the statue, the other to the artist giving the shape.

Applying the same method to the total of things, here too we discover the Intellectual-Principle and this we set down as veritably the maker and creator of the All. The underly has adopted, we see, certain shapes by which it becomes fire, water, air, earth; and these shapes have been imposed upon it by something else. This other is Soul which, hovering over the Four [the elements], imparts the pattern of the Kosmos, the Ideas for which it has itself received from the Intellectual-Principle as the soul or mind of the craftsman draws upon his craft for the plan of his work.

The Intellectual-Principle is in one phase the Form of the soul, its shape; in another phase it is the giver of the shape — the sculptor, possessing inherently what is given — imparting to soul nearly the authentic reality while what body receives is but image and imitation.

4. But, soul reached, why need we look higher; why not make this The First?

A main reason is that the Intellectual-Principle is at once something other and something more powerful than Soul and that the more powerful is in the nature of things the prior. For it is certainly not true, as people imagine, that the soul, brought to perfection, produces Intellect. How could that potentiality come to actuality unless there be, first, an effective principle to induce the actualization which, left to chance, might never occur?

The Firsts must be supposed to exist in actuality, looking to nothing else, self-complete. Anything incomplete must be sequent upon these, and take its completion from the principles engendering it which, like fathers, labour in the improvement of an offspring born imperfect: the produced is a Matter to the producing principle and is worked over by it into a shapely perfection.

And if, further, soul is passible while something impassible there must be or by the mere passage of time all wears away, here too we are led to something above soul.

Again there must be something prior to Soul because Soul is in the world and there must be something outside a world in which, all being corporeal and material, nothing has enduring reality: failing such a prior, neither man nor the Ideas would be eternal or have true identity.

These and many other considerations establish the necessary existence of an Intellectual-Principle prior to Soul.

5. This Intellectual-Principle, if the term is to convey the truth, must be understood to be not a principle merely potential and not one maturing from unintelligence to intelligence — that would simply send us seeking, once more, a necessary prior — but a principle which is intelligence in actuality and in eternity.

Now a principle whose wisdom is not borrowed must derive from itself any intellection it may make; and anything it may possess within itself it can hold only from itself: it follows that, intellective by its own resource and upon its own content, it is itself the very things on which its intellection acts.

For supposing its essence to be separable from its intellection and the objects of its intellection to be not itself, then its essence would be unintellectual; and it would be intellectual not actually but potentially. The intellection and its object must then be inseparable — however the habit induced by our conditions may tempt us to distinguish, There too, the thinker from the thought.

What then is its characteristic Act and what the intellection which makes knower and known here identical?

Clearly, as authentic Intellection, it has authentic intellection of the authentically existent, and establishes their existence. Therefore it is the Authentic Beings.

Consider: It must perceive them either somewhere else or within itself as its very self: the somewhere else is impossible — where could that be? — they are therefore itself and the content of itself.

Its objects certainly cannot be the things of sense, as people think; no First could be of the sense-known order; for in things of sense the Idea is but an image of the authentic, and every Idea thus derivative and exiled traces back to that original and is no more than an image of it.

Further, if the Intellectual-Principle is to be the maker of this All, it cannot make by looking outside itself to what does not yet exist. The Authentic Beings must, then, exist before this All, no copies made on a model but themselves archetypes, primals, and the essence of the Intellectual-Principle.

We may be told that Reason-Principles suffice [to the subsistence of the All]: but then these, clearly, must be eternal; and if eternal, if immune, then they must exist in an Intellectual-Principle such as we have indicated, a principle earlier than condition, than nature, than soul, than anything whose existence is potential for contingent].

The Intellectual-Principle, therefore, is itself the authentic existences, not a knower knowing them in some sphere foreign to it. The Authentic Beings, thus, exist neither before nor after it: it is the primal legislator to Being or, rather, is itself the law of Being. Thus it is true that “Intellectual and Being are identical”; in the immaterial the knowledge of the thing is the thing. And this is the meaning of the dictum “I sought myself,” namely as one of the Beings: it also bears on reminiscence.

For none of the Beings is outside the Intellectual-Principle or in space; they remain for ever in themselves, accepting no change, no decay, and by that are the authentically existent. Things that arise and fall away draw on real being as something to borrow from; they are not of the real; the true being is that on which they draw.

It is by participation that the sense-known has the being we ascribe to it; the underlying nature has taken its shape from elsewhere; thus bronze and wood are shaped into what we see by means of an image introduced by sculpture or carpentry; the craft permeates the materials while remaining integrally apart from the material and containing in itself the reality of statue or couch. And it is so, of course, with all corporeal things.

This universe, characteristically participant in images, shows how the image differs from the authentic beings: against the variability of the one order, there stands the unchanging quality of the other, self-situate, not needing space because having no magnitude, holding an existent intellective and self-sufficing. The body-kind seeks its endurance in another kind; the Intellectual-Principle, sustaining by its marvellous Being, the things which of themselves must fall, does not itself need to look for a staying ground.

6. We take it, then, that the Intellectual-Principle is the authentic existences and contains them all — not as in a place but as possessing itself and being one thing with this its content. All are one there and yet are distinct: similarly the mind holds many branches and items of knowledge simultaneously, yet none of them merged into any other, each acting its own part at call quite independently, every conception coming out from the inner total and working singly. It is after this way, though in a closer unity, that the Intellectual-Principle is all Being in one total — and yet not in one, since each of these beings is a distinct power which, however, the total Intellectual-Principle includes as the species in a genus, as the parts in a whole. This relation may be illustrated by the powers in seed; all lies undistinguished in the unit, the formative ideas gathered as in one kernel; yet in that unit there is eye-principle, and there is hand-principle, each of which is revealed as a separate power by its distinct material product. Thus each of the powers in the seed is a Reason-Principle one and complete yet including all the parts over which it presides: there will be something bodily, the liquid, for example, carrying mere Matter; but the principle itself is Idea and nothing else, idea identical with the generative idea belonging to the lower soul, image of a higher. This power is sometimes designated as Nature in the seed-life; its origin is in the divine; and, outgoing from its priors as light from fire, it converts and shapes the matter of things, not by push and pull and the lever work of which we hear so much, but by bestowal of the Ideas.

7. Knowledge in the reasoning soul is on the one side concerned with objects of sense, though indeed this can scarcely be called knowledge and is better indicated as opinion or surface-knowing; it is of later origin than the objects since it is a reflection from them: but on the other hand there is the knowledge handling the intellectual objects and this is the authentic knowledge; it enters the reasoning soul from the Intellectual-Principle and has no dealing with anything in sense. Being true knowledge it actually is everything of which it takes cognisance; it carries as its own content the intellectual act and the intellectual object since it carries the Intellectual-Principle which actually is the primals and is always self-present and is in its nature an Act, never by any want forced to seek, never acquiring or traversing the remote — for all such experience belongs to soul — but always self-gathered, the very Being of the collective total, not an extern creating things by the act of knowing them.

Not by its thinking God does God come to be; not by its thinking Movement does Movement arise. Hence it is an error to call the Ideas intellections in the sense that, upon an intellectual act in this Principle, one such Idea or another is made to exist or exists. No: the object of this intellection must exist before the intellective act [must be the very content not the creation of the Intellectual-Principle]. How else could that Principle come to know it: certainly not [as an external] by luck or by haphazard search.

8. If, then, the Intellection is an act upon the inner content [of a perfect unity], that content is at once the Idea [as object: eidos] and the Idea itself [as concept: idea].

What, then, is that content?

An Intellectual-Principle and an Intellective Essence, no concept distinguishable from the Intellectual-Principle, each actually being that Principle. The Intellectual-Principle entire is the total of the Ideas, and each of them is the [entire] Intellectual-Principle in a special form. Thus a science entire is the total of the relevant considerations each of which, again, is a member of the entire science, a member not distinct in space yet having its individual efficacy in a total.

This Intellectual-Principle, therefore, is a unity while by that possession of itself it is, tranquilly, the eternal abundance.

If the Intellectual-Principle were envisaged as preceding Being, it would at once become a principle whose expression, its intellectual Act, achieves and engenders the Beings: but, since we are compelled to think of existence as preceding that which knows it, we can but think that the Beings are the actual content of the knowing principle and that the very act, the intellection, is inherent to the Beings, as fire stands equipped from the beginning with fire-act; in this conception, the Beings contain the Intellectual-Principle as one and the same with themselves, as their own activity. Thus, Being is itself an activity: there is one activity, then, in both or, rather, both are one thing.

Being, therefore, and the Intellectual-Principle are one Nature: the Beings, and the Act of that which is, and the Intellectual-Principle thus constituted, all are one: and the resultant Intellections are the Idea of Being and its shape and its act.

It is our separating habit that sets the one order before the other: for there is a separating intellect, of another order than the true, distinct from the intellect, inseparable and unseparating, which is Being and the universe of things.

9. What, then, is the content — inevitably separated by our minds — of this one Intellectual-Principle? For there is no resource but to represent the items in accessible form just as we study the various articles constituting one science.

This universe is a living thing capable of including every form of life; but its Being and its modes are derived from elsewhere; that source is traced back to the Intellectual-Principle: it follows that the all-embracing archetype is in the Intellectual-Principle, which, therefore, must be an intellectual Kosmos, that indicated by Plato in the phrase “The living existent.”

Given the Reason-Principle [the outgoing divine Idea] of a certain living thing and the Matter to harbour this seed-principle, the living thing must come into being: in the same way once there exists — an intellective Nature, all powerful, and with nothing to check it — since nothing intervenes between it and that which is of a nature to receive it — inevitably the higher imprints form and the lower accepts, it. The recipient holds the Idea in division, here man, there sun, while in the giver all remains in unity.

10. All, then, that is present in the sense realm as Idea comes from the Supreme. But what is not present as Idea, does not. Thus of things conflicting with nature, none is There: the inartistic is not contained in the arts; lameness is not in the seed; for a lame leg is either inborn through some thwarting of the Reason-principle or is a marring of the achieved form by accident. To that Intellectual Kosmos belong qualities, accordant with Nature, and quantities; number and mass; origins and conditions; all actions and experiences not against nature; movement and repose, both the universals and the particulars: but There time is replaced by eternity and space by its intellectual equivalent, mutual inclusiveness.

In that Intellectual Kosmos, where all is one total, every entity that can be singled out is an intellective essence and a participant in life: thus, identity and difference, movement and rest with the object resting or moving, essence and quality, all have essential existence. For every real being must be in actuality not merely in potentiality and therefore the nature of each essence is inherent in it.

This suggests the question whether the Intellectual Kosmos contains the forms only of the things of sense or of other existents as well. But first we will consider how it stands with artistic creations: there is no question of an ideal archetype of evil: the evil of this world is begotten of need, privation, deficiency, and is a condition peculiar to Matter distressed and to what has come into likeness with Matter.

11. Now as to the arts and crafts and their productions:

The imitative arts — painting, sculpture, dancing, pantomimic gesturing — are, largely, earth-based; on an earthly base; they follow models found in sense, since they copy forms and movements and reproduce seen symmetries; they cannot therefore be referred to that higher sphere except indirectly, through the Reason-Principle in humanity.

On the other hand any skill which, beginning with the observation of the symmetry of living things, grows to the symmetry of all life, will be a portion of the Power There which observes and meditates the symmetry reigning among all beings in the Intellectual Kosmos. Thus all music — since its thought is upon melody and rhythm — must be the earthly representation of the music there is in the rhythm of the Ideal Realm.

The crafts, such as building and carpentry which give us Matter in wrought forms, may be said, in that they draw on pattern, to take their principles from that realm and from the thinking There: but in that they bring these down into contact with the sense-order, they are not wholly in the Intellectual: they are founded in man. So agriculture, dealing with material growths: so medicine watching over physical health; so the art which aims at corporeal strength and well-being: power and well-being mean something else There, the fearlessness and self-sufficing quality of all that lives.

Oratory and generalship, administration and sovereignty — under any forms in which their activities are associated with Good and when they look to that — possess something derived thence and building up their knowledge from the knowledge There.

Geometry, the science of the Intellectual entities, holds place There: so, too, philosophy, whose high concern is Being.

For the arts and products of art, these observations may suffice.

12. It should however be added that if the Idea of man exists in the Supreme, there must exist the Idea of reasoning man and of man with his arts and crafts; such arts as are the offspring of intellect Must be There.

It must be observed that the Ideas will be of universals; not of Socrates but of Man: though as to man we may enquire whether the individual may not also have place There. Under the heading of individuality there is to be considered the repetition of the same feature from man to man, the simian type, for example, and the aquiline: the aquiline and the simian must be taken to be differences in the Idea of Man as there are different types of the animal: but Matter also has its effect in bringing about the degree of aquilinity. Similarly with difference of complexion, determined partly by the Reason-Principle, partly by Matter and by diversity of place.

13. It remains to decide whether only what is known in sense exists There or whether, on the contrary, as Absolute-Man differs from individual man, so there is in the Supreme an Absolute-Soul differing from Soul and an Absolute-Intellect differing from Intellectual-Principle.

It must be stated at the outset that we cannot take all that is here to be image of archetype, or Soul to be an image of Absolute-Soul: one soul, doubtless, ranks higher than another, but here too, though perhaps not as identified with this realm, is the Absolute-Soul.

Every soul, authentically a soul, has some form of rightness and moral wisdom; in the souls within ourselves there is true knowing: and these attributes are no images or copies from the Supreme, as in the sense-world, but actually are those very originals in a mode peculiar to this sphere. For those Beings are not set apart in some defined place; wherever there is a soul that has risen from body, there too these are: the world of sense is one — where, the Intellectual Kosmos is everywhere. Whatever the freed soul attains to here, that it is There.

Thus, if by the content of the sense-world we mean simply the visible objects, then the Supreme contains not only what is in the realm of sense but more: if in the content of the kosmos we mean to include Soul and the Soul-things, then all is here that is There.

14. There is, thus, a Nature comprehending in the Intellectual all that exists, and this Principle must be the source of all. But how, seeing that the veritable source must be a unity, simplex utterly?

The mode by which from the unity arises the multiple, how all this universe comes to be, why the Intellectual-Principle is all and whence it springs, these matters demand another approach.

But on the question as to whether the repulsive and the products of putridity have also their Idea — whether there is an Idea of filth and mud — it is to be observed that all that the Intellectual-Principle derived from The First is of the noblest; in those Ideas the base is not included: these repulsive things point not to the Intellectual-Principle but to the Soul which, drawing upon the Intellectual-Principle, takes from Matter certain other things, and among them these.

But all this will be more clearly brought out, when we turn to the problem of the production of multiplicity from unity. Compounds, we shall see — as owing existence to hazard and not to the Intellectual-Principle, having been fused into objects of sense by their own impulse — are not to be included under Ideas.

The products of putrefaction are to be traced to the Soul’s inability to bring some other thing to being — something in the order of nature, which, else, it would — but producing where it may. In the matter of the arts and crafts, all that are to be traced to the needs of human nature are laid up in the Absolute Man.

And before the particular Soul there is another Soul, a universal, and, before that, an Absolute-Soul, which is the Life existing in the Intellectual-Principle before Soul came to be and therefore rightly called [as the Life in the Divine] the Absolute-Soul.

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