Manual Plotinus on Intellect

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If intellectual perception were not a perception of being, then intellect were only a "capacity" or "possibility," but we must have that which is in energy, and intellect is seen to be such only when the objects of intellectual perception are in intellect itself. If they were elsewhere, or outside of intellect, or had no being, then intellect would only be in capacity not real intellect and the objects of its perception not being.

Intellect is, then, both that which is and that which knows. And, further, in so far as sensible things participate in types, they are objects of intellect; and not only so, but since intellect, or reason, has only itself for its object, they are creations of intellect. Further, still, it is the same thing to perceive intellectually and to be. In intellect all things subsist collectively, or at the same time, and yet as one, just as in the seed are contained all the potentialities of the future plant. But there is in intellect no temporal process as in the growth and reality of the seed.

Reason is eternally "present with itself". For this reason, intellect, as distinguished from being, does not exist prior to being; if it did, we should have to say that intellect, by energizing and intellectually perceiving, generated beings. Rather, intellect is posterior to being, just as the energy of fire is posterior to fire; and yet, since intellect would lack in itself being and hence would not be intellect if it became its object or being, we say that being and intellect are one.

Considered with reference to its contents the intelligible world is or contains in it "according qualities and quantities, numbers and magnitudes, habitudes, actions, and passions, which are according to nature, motions, permanencies, both universal and particular," "sameness, difference, the stable, essence, quality, art". On the contrary, there is in the intelligible world no art that has to do with sensible things. For there is another power, another health, there, through which all animals are sufficiently corroborated".

The soul in its real essence is there and the true sciences and justice and temperance.

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In intellect, or reason, there is a certain duality of the knower and the known, even though these be in a manner one, and therefore, says Plotinus, reason is not the Absolute The First, The One, The Good. The Absolute is what is One simply and without qualification. It is prior to being and intellect. It is in itself neither intelligible nor intellective. It is intelligible in the sense that, being that which alone is absolutely perfect, its presence with or to intellect or reason is essential to the perfect being and activity of intellect.

If this, which is prior to intellect itself, had intellectual perception, it would have to have present with it another thing, and hence would not be sole and first, but "many" and second. The One is not one among many, nor one in or through many: it is absolutely sole. The thought of it is wholly unlike the thought of anything else. To attain to the perception of the One it is requisite to abstract totally from the world of sense, i. One then perceives that which is absolutely formless and distinctionless, and it may be, becomes weary of the vision and wishes to descend again to the world of sense.

Hence it becomes weary in endeavors of this kind, and gladly descends from the survey, frequently falling from all things till it arrives at something sensible, and, as it were, rests on a solid substance; just as sight, also, when wearied with the perception of small objects, eagerly turns to such as are larger".

Nevertheless, the Absolute, or First, is to be approached only in the manner described. All intellectual perceptions proper, however pure of sense, are but conditions to the apprehension of the One.

Plotinus on Intellect

In speaking of the One we necessarily apply names to it that designate not anything that is really in the One itself, but, "something which happens to us because we possess something from it, the One meantime subsisting in itself. It is necessary, however, when speaking accurately of the One, neither to call it that nor this. But we, running, as it were, externally around it, are desirous of explaining the manner in which we are affected about it. At one time, indeed, we draw near to it, but at another time fall from it by our doubts about it Doubt especially arises because the perception of the highest Good is not effected by science [i.

All concrete or synthetic doctrine extends only so far as the way and progression to him". The act of perceiving the One is a complete merging into it, a perfect union of knowing subject with known object, a union which is of the nature of the One and is hence necessarily a perfect union of the knowing subject with itself.

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It is only after separating from the One that intellect has before it the distinction of subject and object. The One is distinct from, though present with, all else. The One being thus prior for thought to all things else is the absolute prius of all things else. But in what way? How does the our thought of the One lead to that of intellect, soul, and sensible things? How do all things else follow from the One? When we try to hold or, we may just as well say, lose, ourselves in the conception of the One, or pure formlessness, we find spontaneously arising the thought of the opposite.

This fact is the foundation of Plotinus's theory of the "generation and order of all things after the first". That, however, which is generated from it being still under its influence turns towards it to become or to partake of, the One and is filled, and was generated looking to it. But this is intellect and the permanency of it about the One produced being, but its vision intellect. When, therefore, it is established about the One in order that it may see it, then it becomes at once intellect and being" 6.

In this vision of the One intellect has the consciousness of power and of itself. The One, that is to say, having produced by its overflowing an energy which it causes to turn back towards it and look at it sinks down for that intellective power into the realm of being, and being and intellect are thus organically distinguished and joined—immanent the one in the other by the presence of the One—as knower and known.


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Intellect viewing being in a light reflected from the One—seeing being by vision that it has immediately on leaving the One—sees being as one a form of One rather than many, and one with itself intellect : it therefore sees itself. Viewing being as being, i. In the latter form it is discursive and scientific, not pure intellect. Subject and object, considered as the same with one another, give us Identity; considered as distinct they give us Difference.

The passage from one to the other gives Motion the limitation of thought to itself gives Rest.


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  • The plurality of determinations so obtained gives Number and Quantity, their specific difference gives Quality, and from these principles everything else is derived" 7. Such is the deduction of the primary ideas from the One and from Nous and Being. The intelligible world does not fall below the notion of organic unity.

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    The intelligible world is an "image" of the One. It is an organism of eternal types and forms. Now, since form must have realization in matter, there is in the intelligible world a universal substratum, "incorporeal matter". This is the bond of union among the Ideas, or distinct forms, of the intelligible world.

    It is cognized by "indefinite" reason. Soul Out of the superabundance of the Intellect, or Nous, comes soul 8 , which is an "image" of Nous, as this is of the One. It partakes of the permanent, abiding nature of Nous but has in it also the negative of permanence, the principle of motion. Nothing, however, intervenes between soul and Nous: though distinct, they are continuous one with the other.

    From both of these are generated souls, rational and irrational. The "procession," or going forth of souls, from Nous is neither a voluntary nor a compulsory act, but "resembles a physical leaping or the natural tendencies to wedlock, or the impulses to certain beautiful actions to which we are not excited by a reasoning process". Each individual soul has inherent in it the universal law that carries it naturally to its particular end at the time appointed by the law itself; or, to state the same fact in a different way, each soul is suspended from an intellect which rules its course as, according to Aristotle, the Heavens are "suspended" from the Deity, or Prime Mover.

    And some of them proceed from the heavens into inferior bodies, but others pass from certain bodies into others: these being such as have not sufficient power to raise themselves from hence on account of the great weight of oblivion which they have attracted and which draws them down by their oppressive influence". Souls differ either inherently or from the diversity of the circumstances into which they are introduced or from fortune and education. That natural and, as it were, free necessity which conducts all beings to that condition of existence to which they are adapted, "coordinating and weaving together even the smallest things, is a kind of universal justice awarding their deserts to those who have done good or evil, whether in this life or a preexistent state.

    As being an "intelligible nature and divine allotment" the soul is not body nor the harmony in incorporeal natures, nor the entelechy, or perfection, of the body. The soul is "present with" the body; and, as the One is with intellect and intellect with the soul, it is not in the body; rather the body is in it, as the air is and shines in the light. As intermediate in nature between the perfectly indivisible the One and intellect and the divisible the sense world , the soul is present with the body as whole and as part. The whole soul is in each part, but has a difference of function in the different parts by virtue of its adaptability to differences in the organs of the body.

    If the soul were not as thus an organism, all synthesis of the findings of the separate senses would be an impossibility and so, likewise, would all distinguishing and mental registering of sensations, for there will be no locating of them. The order and beauty of the cosmos, to take a quite analogous case, show that there must be a single power which wisely connects and governs all things in it. This power is the soul of the world. The soul in the body, by virtue of its relative divisibility, supplies all parts of the body with life and "power of sensation"; by virtue of its indivisibility it "conducts all things wisely".

    In the case of the sense of touch the whole body is present as instrument with the soul; in that of the other senses only limited parts of the body. The central seat of sensation is the brain.

    Plotinus on Intellect

    Though the sensitive soul is bodily in nature, it is, to some extent, "judicial," or intellective. The phantasy, or imagination in the widest sense , is permeated by reason; impulse and appetite are not entirely beyond the influence of reason and phantasy. Memory has its roots partly in the intellect, partly in the phantasy.

    The soul is throughout, therefore, dominated by reason, or intellect. But because of the natural deterioration of intellect that takes place in the passing of intellect into soul, the intellect in the soul is not pure, or intuitive, but discursive, or rationalistic, intellect. Only rarely does the soul while in the body attain to the summit of intellect and merge into the Divine Being. It always possesses, however, though it does not always energize according to them, the innate ideas which it brought with it from the intelligible world.