Having completed our introduction to Plotinus in the last post, we now examine his synthesis of ultimate reality factoring in the influences we discussed. Plotinus is a dualist, telling us the material world is subordinate to a higher realm which is composed of a hierarchy (in Bertrand Russel’s words, a “Holy Trinity”) with The One over the Intellectual Principle which is in turn over the Soul.
The One is the “clef de voûte”6 of ultimate reality for Plotinus. The One is epekeina or beyond being, equivalent to Plato’s ‘the Good,’ and tantalizingly close to the theologian’s concept of God. The One is omnipresent or immanent in everything, but is itself absolutely transcendental, entirely undifferentiated and quality-less,7 and as such represents absolute simplicity. It transcends essence, thought, form, and knowledge. Plotinus also calls it ‘Unity’ because it transcends all multiplicity, however he makes clear it is not a number but the measure of number itself, “the transcendence of separability rather than the negation of plurality” to quote Dean Inge, the famous scholar of Plotinus.8 Moreover The One is not intelligence but rather awareness and self-awareness.
All of this is to say that the One is de facto indefinable; there is more truth in silence,9 as “no sound or word can convey [it].10 Plotinus considers the One utterly unknowable: “Only the contemplative knows it and even he, should he seek to see a form, would know it not,” says Plotinus.11 The phrase, “The One,” serves only to orient one’s efforts, the process of understanding the One is ultimately through negatives.12 But it is generative and the Principle at the origin of ‘the return’ which draws the soul to the cause.12 page 19-20
THE INTELLECTUAL PRINCIPLE
The Intellectual Principle – the Nous, or the Intelligence, also referred to as ‘Spirit’ by Dean Inge – is the second hypostasis, itself coming directly from the One and the image of it, or the vision of itself, the light by which it sees itself. Nous is the separate and supreme intelligence of the world of Forms. Multiplicity appears here- but the Intelligence is itself singular and corresponds to Plato’s ream of Ideas or ‘true being’, except for Plotinus this realm is not independent of Intelligence. Its realm also includes Soul and matter, number and being.
We can know the divine mind (Intelligence) by studying our own soul when it is most god-like putting aside the body at which point we find what remians is divine intellect. When we are divinely possessed and infused we see not only Nous, but also the One. This is only possible when everything is cut away and one achieves ‘ecstasy’ or being outside oneself. We will discuss this in more detail in Part II.
(further continued next post)
6O’Brien, Elmer, The Essential Plotinus. The New American Library, New York, N.Y., 1964, page 16.
7Edwards, Paul (editor), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. & The Free Press, 1972. Volume 6, page 353.
8 O’Brien, Elmer, The Essential Plotinus. The New American Library, New York, N.Y., 1964, page 18.
9 Russell, Bertrand, A History of Western Philosophy. Simon & Schuster, New York, 1972. ISBN-13 978-1-4165-5477-6, page 288. We are reminded of Laozi’s paradoxical definition of Tao.
10 O’Brien, Elmer, The Essential Plotinus. The New American Library, New York, N.Y., 1964, page 18.
13Ibid., pages 19-20