PLOTINUS: Fifth Ennead

Tractate I – The Three Initial Hypostases

Section 1 – Plotinus asks what has led the souls of men to forget God and their kinship with the divine. He answers that the souls have entered the realm of becoming and have been beguiled by this world’s temptations. He proposes a solution to reunite the soul with the divine. First, one must regard perishable things (like fame, wealth, etc.) as dishonorable. Second, one must learn the nature and worth of the soul.

The influence of Plato and Stoicism is evident in the first section of the Fifth Ennead.

Section 2 – The soul is the author of all things. The soul breathes life into all that is living. The soul is indivisible and immortal. Thus, the soul is greater than the body because the worth of a body is dependent upon the presence of the soul.

Section 3 – The source of the soul is the Intellectual Principle. The soul is the utterance of the Intellectual Principle. But we should not regard the soul as an overflowing of the Intellectual Principle. The Intellectual Principle is inherent in the soul.

Plotinus’ explanation of the Intellectual Principle is abstruse and perhaps even contradictory. He seems to imply that the Intellectual Principle and the soul are the same, but not the same – “nothing separates them but the fact that they are not one and the same.”

Section 4 – The Intellectual Principle causes Being by an intellective act, and Being, as an object of intellection, causes the Intellectual Principle.

More abstruse arguments.

Section 5 – The One is unity. It is prior to the Intellectual Principle and Soul.

Section 6 – The One is immobile; for if it moved to generate the Intellectual Principle, then motion would be prior to the Intellectual Principle. The One is like the immovable and eternal sun. The Intellectual Principle is the light that emanates from the sun.

Section 7 – Plotinus draws a comparions between Cronus consuming his children and the Intellectual Principle encompassing all souls.

Section 8 – Plotinus cites the works of Plato and Parmenides. Both authors corroborate Plotinus’s threefold division of The One, the Intellectual Principle, and the Soul.

Section 9 – Plotinus explains his disagreement with Aristotle regarding the First Principle. Aristotle believes that the First Principle contemplates itself. Plotinus disagrees because this negates the First Principle’s primacy.

Section 10 – The encouragement to sever the soul from the body ought not to be interpreted to mean that we should endeavor to spatially separate the soul from the body. It means that we ought to endeavor to separate our soul’s concern for the body and direct it toward the divine.

Section 11 – Reasoning is an inquiry into what is right and good. There must be a permanent right and good in order for this inquiry to occur.

Section 12 – Not all that passes in the soul is perceived by man. For man is the entirety of the soul, not just the divine part.While the divine part reasons, the meaner part may take notice of sense data. Thus, we ought to endeavor to let the sense data pass through us unobserved and focus on the actions of the divine part of our souls.

Tractate II – The Origin and Order of the Beings

Section 1 – “It is precisely because there is nothing within the One that all things are from it.”

The sentence that I quoted above is the reason why I have decided not to finish this text. I won’t pretend to understand any of what he has written. As Hume said, “If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.”


Admiring pursuit of the external is a confession of inferiority; and nothing thus holding itself inferior to things that rise and perish, nothing counting itself less honourable and less enduring than all else it admires could ever form any notion of either the nature or the power of God.

As the rays of the sun throwing their brilliance upon a lowering cloud make it gleam all gold, so the soul entering the material expanse of the heavens has given life, has given immortality: what was abject it has lifted up.

The Soul once seen to be thus precious, thus divine, you may hold the faith that by its possession you are already nearing God: in the strength of this power make upwards towards Him: at no great distance you must attain: there is not much between.

That archetypal world is the true Golden Age, age of Kronos, who is the Intellectual-Principle as being the offspring or exuberance of God. For here is contained all that is immortal: nothing here but is Divine Mind; all is God; this is the place of every soul. Here is rest unbroken: for how can that seek change, in which all is well; what need that reach to, which holds all within itself; what increase can that desire, which stands utterly achieved?

Given this immobility in the Supreme, it can neither have yielded assent nor uttered decree nor stirred in any way towards the existence of a secondary.
What happened then? What are we to conceive as rising in the neighbourhood of that immobility?
It must be a circumradiation- produced from the Supreme but from the Supreme unaltering- and may be compared to the brilliant light encircling the sun and ceaselessly generated from that unchanging substance.

A being of this quality, like the Intellectual-Principle, must be felt to be worthy of the all-pure: it could not derive from any other than from the first principle of all; as it comes into existence, all other beings must be simultaneously engendered- all the beauty of the Ideas, all the Gods of the Intellectual realm. And it still remains pregnant with this offspring; for it has, so to speak, drawn all within itself again, holding them lest they fall away towards Matter to be “brought up in the House of Rhea” [in the realm of flux]. This is the meaning hidden in the Mysteries, and in the Myths of the gods: Kronos, as the wisest, exists before Zeus; he must absorb his offspring that, full within himself, he may be also an Intellectual-Principle manifest in some product of his plenty; afterwards, the myth proceeds, Kronos engenders Zeus, who already exists as the [necessary and eternal] outcome of the plenty there; in other words the offspring of the Divine Intellect, perfect within itself, is Soul [the life-principle carrying forward the Ideas in the Divine Mind].

The admonition to sever soul from body is not, of course, to be understood spatially- that separation stands made in Nature- the reference is to holding our rank, to use of our thinking, to an attitude of alienation from the body in the effort to lead up and attach to the over-world, equally with the other, that phase of soul seated here and, alone, having to do with body, creating, moulding, spending its care upon it.

None the less every being of the order of soul is in continuous activity as long as life holds, continuously executing to itself its characteristic act: knowledge of the act depends upon transmission and perception. If there is to be perception of what is thus present, we must turn the perceptive faculty inward and hold it to attention there. Hoping to hear a desired voice, we let all others pass and are alert for the coming at last of that most welcome of sounds: so here, we must let the hearings of sense go by, save for sheer necessity, and keep the soul’s perception bright and quick to the sounds from above.

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