“But the creator is Himself knowledge, the knower and the object known. His knowledge does not arise from His directing His thoughts to things outside of Him, since in comprehending and knowing Himself, He comprehends and knows everything that exists.” – Moses Cordovero, A Garden of Pomegranates.1

On our journey to define the many human conceptions of ultimate reality, we have worked through the scientific understanding and last time finished our review of the ancient Western philosophical tradition ending on Plotinus who was active in the third century C.E. In the West for the next 14 centuries, philosophy is submerged within Christian theology (theological understandings of ultimate reality or God make up the third portion of the section on Ultimate Reality and the Meaningful Life) until we arrive at Baruch De Spinoza (later Benedict Spinoza), the first strictly philosophical thinker in this area since antiquity.

In his opus magnum, The Ethics, Spinoza attempts to create a metaphysics of certainty using geometric-like axioms and proofs to support his positions. While his presentation is not entirely convincing and at times seemingly confused, we can extract a speculative position wherein he appears to pick up from Aristotle with ‘substance’ as ultimate reality. However unlike Aristotle, Spinoza believes there is only one substance in the sense of a genuinely individual thing with intelligibility and not derived from other things. Its existence follows from its essence, not an act of creation rather that of which the laws of Nature are the operation. In other words, God is Nature!

All other things in the universe are finite modes of the one substance which itself has an infinite number of attributes. However we are only aware of physical and mental attributes of substances due to our limitations. In addition all finite things are united by the feature of conatus or striving to exist. Spinoza believes the laws of Nature are all-governing, hence prior conditions determine subsequent events, thus humans have no free will. Our sense of free will derives from an intense conatus opposed to external influences.2

(continued next post)


1 Edwards, Paul (editor), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. & The Free Press, 1972. Volume 7, page 534.

2Honderich, Ted, The Oxford Guide to Philosophy. Oxford University Press, 2005. ISBN 978-0-19-534093-8 pages 888-892.



“This vision achieved, the acting instinct pauses; the mind is satisfied and seeks nothing further; the contemplation, in one so conditioned, remains absorbed within as having acquired certainty to rest upon. The brighter the certainty, the more tranquil is the contemplation as having acquired the more perfect unity…” (III, 8, 6)14


“The space open to the soul’s resort is vast and diverse; the difference will come by the double force of the individual condition and of the justice reigning in things. No one can ever escape the suffering entailed by ill deeds done: the divine law is ineluctable, carrying bound up, as one with it, the fore-ordained execution of its doom. The sufferer, all unaware, is swept upwards towards his due, hurried always by the restless driving of his errors, until at last wearied out by that against which he struggled, he falls into his fit place and, by self-chosen movement is brought to the lot he never chose. And the law decrees, also, the intensity and duration of the suffering while it carries with it, too, the lifting of chastisement and the faculty of rising from those places of pain – all by power of the harmony that maintains the universal scheme.” (IV, 3, 24)15

“…in all his pain he [the Sage] asks no pity; there is always the radiance in the inner soul of the man, untroubled like the light in a lantern when fierce gusts beat about it in a wild turmoil of wind and tempest.” (I, 4, 8)16



“[It] is simply a human error which assumes wisdom to be what in fact is unwisdom, taking the search for wisdom to be wisdom itself. For what can reasoning be but a struggle, the effort to discover the wise course, to attain the principle which is true and derives from real-being? …What reasoners seek, the wise hold; wisdom in a word, is a condition in a being that possesses repose. Think what happens when one has accomplished a reasoning process: as soon as we have discovered the right course, we cease to reason; we rest because we have come to wisdom.” ( IV, 4, 12)17


“That the soul is of the family of the diviner nature, the eternal, is clear from our demonstration that it is not material…but there are other proofs…Let us consider a soul, not one that has appropriated the unreasoned desires and impulses of the  bodily life, or any other such emotion and experience, but one that has cast all this aside and as far as possible has no commerce with the bodily. Such a soul demonstrates that all evil is accretion, alien, and that in the purged soul the noble things are immanent, wisdom and all else that is good…any one of us that exhibits these qualities will differ but little as far as soul is concerned from the Supernals…This is so true that, if every human being were at that stage, or if a great number lived by a soul of that degree no one would be so incredulous as to doubt that the soul in man is immortal, It is because we see everywhere the spoiled souls of the great mass that it becomes difficult to recognize their divinity and immortality” (IV, 7, 10)18


“…to those that approach the Holy Celebrations of the Mysteries, there are appointed purifications and the laying aside of the garments worn before, and the entry in nakedness  – until, passing, on the upward way, all that is other than the God, each in the solitude of himself shall behold that solitary-dwelling Existence, the Apart, the Unmingled, the Pure, that from Which all things depend for Which all look and live and act and know, the Source of Life and of Intellection and of Being.”(I, 6, 7)19

Of course there is so much more, but I have already treaded on the reader’s patience, so I propose to move on – next to Spinoza.


14Hutchins, Robert Maynard (editor), Plotinus. Encyclopaedia Britanica, 1952. The Great Books, Volume 17, pages 131-132.

15Ibid., page 154.

16Ibid., page 16.

17Ibid., page 164.

18Ibid., pages 198-199.

19Ibid., page 24.



“Our task, then, is to work for our liberation from this sphere, severing ourselves from all that has gathered about us; the total man is to be something better than a body ensouled… There is another life, emancipated, whose quality is progression towards the higher realm, toward the good and divine, towards the Principle which no one possesses except by deliberate usage but so may appropriate, becoming, each personally the higher, the beautiful, the Godlike, and living, remote, in and by It…” (II, 3, 9)8

“A man’s one task is to strive towards making himself perfect- though not in the idea- really fatal to perfection – that to be perfect is possible to himself alone.” (II, 9, 9)9


“In sum, evil belongs to the sequence of things, but it comes from necessity. It originates in ourselves; it has its causes no doubt, but we are not, therefore, forced to it by Providence: some of these causes we adapt to the operation of Providence and of it subordinates, but with others we fail to make the connection; the act instead of being ranged under the will of Providence consults the desire of the agent alone or of some other element in the Universe, something which is either itself at variance with Providence or has set up some state of variance in ourselves.” (III, 3, 5)10

“Wrong-doing from man to man is wrong in the doer and must be imputed, but, as belonging to the established order of the universe is not a wrong even as regards the innocent sufferer; it is a thing that had to be, and, if the sufferer is good, the issues is to his gain. For we cannot think that this ordered combination proceeds without God and justice; we must take it to be precise in the distribution of due, while, yet, the reasons of things elude us, and to our ignorance the scheme presents matter of censure.” (IV, 3, 16)11


“It is sound, I think, to find the primal source of Love in a tendency of the Soul towards pure beauty, in a recognition, in a kinship, in an unreasoned consciousness of friendly relation.” (III, 5, 1)12

As the All-Soul contains the Universal Love, so must the single Soul be allowed its own single Love: and as closely as the single Soul holds to the All-Soul, never cut off but embraced within it, the two together constituting one principle of life, so the single separate Love holds the All-Love. Similarly the individual love keeps with the individual Soul as that other, the great Love, goes with the All-Soul; and the Love with the All permeates it throughout so that the one Love becomes many, showing itself where it chooses at any moment of the Universe, taking definite shape in these its partial phases and revealing itself at its will.” (III, 5, 4)13

(final continuation next post)


8Hutchins, Robert Maynard (editor), Plotinus. Encyclopaedia Britanica, 1952. The Great Books, Volume 17, page 44.

9Ibid., page 71.

10Ibid., page 96.

11Ibid., page 150.

12Ibid., page 100.

13Ibid., page 102.


“The lecturer has found Plotinus a most inspiring and fortifying spiritual guide, as well as a great thinker. In times of trouble like the present he has much to teach us, lifting us up from the miseries of the world to the pure air and sunshine of eternal truth, beauty, and goodness.” – Dean Inge, The Philosophy of Plotinus1

After rereading the first two parts I wrote on Plotinus, the reader may not grasp his eloquence and utter sincerity. So I thought today I would offer more segments in his own words from the Enneads. I should start by letting you know I most of the on-line translation (link below) by Stephen MacKenna and B.S. Page (the same translation used by The Great Books) in the summer of 2008.2 I reread a small part of this in preparation for these essays and also some from the 1964 translation of the ‘essential’ parts by Elmer O’Brien.3 I hope to tempt you to read some of it on your own. These selections will generally follow the order of Porphyry’s original text.


 “It would be absurd to think that happiness begins and ends with the living body; happiness is the possession of the good of life; it is centred therefore in Soul, is an Act of the Soul…” (I, 4, 14)4

“If Happiness demands the possession of the good of life, it clearly has to do with the life of Authentic-Existence for that life is the Best. Now the Authentic-Existence is measurable not by time but by eternity; and eternity is not a more or a less of a thing of any magnitude but is the unchangeable, the indvisible, is timeless Being.” (I, 5, 7)5

“To put Happiness in action is to put it in things that are outside virtue and outside the Soul; for the Soul’s expression is not in action but in wisdom, in a contemplative operation within itself; and this, this alone, is Happiness.” (I, 5, 10)6


“It is impossible to talk about bodily beauty if one, like one born blind, has never seen and known bodily beauty. In the same way, it is impossible to talk about the ‘luster’ of right living and of learning and of the like if one has never cared for such things, never beheld ‘the face of justice’ and temperance and seen it to be ‘beyond the beauty of evening or morning star.’ Seeing of this sort is done only with the eye of the soul. And seeing thus, one undergoes a joy, a wonder, and a distress more deep than any other because here one touches truth. Such emotion all beauty must induce – an astonishment, a delicious wonderment, a longing, a love, a trembling that is all delight. It may be felt for things invisible quite as for things you can see, and indeed, the soul does feel it. All souls, we can say, feel it, but souls that are apt for love feel it especially. It is the same here as with bodily beauty. All perceive it. Not all are stung sharply by it. Only they whom we call lovers ever are.” (I, 6 [1], 4)7

(continued next post)


1From Inge’s first Gifford Lecture at St. Andrews, 1917-1918 (Note: World War I took place from 1914-1918).

2The link is http://classics.mit.edu/Plotinus/enneads.mb.txt

3Mr. O’Brien’s biography (in 1964) according to that book: “Elmer O’Brien is Chairman of the Department of Theology at Loyola College, Montreal, He has been Visiting Professor of Philosophy at Fordham University Graduate School and Professor of Dogmatic Theology ad Regis College, Toronto. He is a frequent contributor to Thought, Cross Currents, America, and Commonweal and is the author of biennial surveys of Ascetical and Mystical Theology published in Theological Studies.” It seems clear the work of Plotinus, technically a pagan, was commandeered by Christian mystics and scholars after his death.

4 Hutchins, Robert Maynard (editor), Plotinus. Encyclopaedia Britanica, 1952. The Great Books, Volume 17, page 18.

5Ibid., page 20. (This is remarkably similar to the thoughts of some existentialists and psychologists who come to this conclusion by different paths nearly 1700 years later.)

5Ibid., page 21.

7O’Brien, Elmer, The Essential Plotinus.The New American Library, New York, N.Y., 1964, page 37-38