PLOTINUS: Sixth Ennead

Plotinus is an ancient Greek philosopher who lived from 205-270 BC. He belongs to the philosophical school of Neoplatonism, which expanded upon the metaphysical concepts of Plato. In the Sixth Ennead, Plotinus discourses on the nature of Being, and the nature of the One in particular. The One is Plato’s Form of the Good. It is that from which all existence is derived. Plotinus writes that defining the One is impossible. We must intuit its existence. In order to accomplish this union with the One, we must lead an ascetic life, in which we take little heed of the body and we focus our attention on metaphysical truths. Plotinus’ thoughts have had a significant role in the formation of Christian thought, which has dominated the West for several millennia.

“My own reading is that, moving as we do amid adverse fortunes, compulsions, violent assaults of passion crushing the soul, feeling ourselves mastered by these experiences, playing slave to them, going where they lead, we have been brought by all this to doubt whether we are anything at all and dispose of ourselves in any particular.

This would indicate that we think of our free act as one which we execute of our own choice, in no servitude to chance or necessity or overmastering passion, nothing thwarting our will; the voluntary is conceived as an event amenable to will and occurring or not as our will dictates. Everything will be voluntary that is produced under no compulsion and with knowledge; our free act is what we are masters to perform.

Differing conceptually, the two conditions will often coincide but sometimes will clash. Thus a man would be master to kill, but the act will not be voluntary if in the victim he had failed to recognise his own father. Perhaps however that ignorance is not compatible with real freedom: for the knowledge necessary to a voluntary act cannot be limited to certain particulars but must cover the entire field. Why, for example, should killing be involuntary in the failure to recognise a father and not so in the failure to recognise the wickedness of murder? If because the killer ought to have learned, still ignorance of the duty of learning and the cause of that ignorance remain alike involuntary.”

“Servitude lies in being powerless to move towards one’s good, being debarred from the preferred path in a menial obedience. Hence the shame of slavedom is incurred not when one is held from the hurtful but when the personal good must be yielded in favour of another’s.”

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