ABSTRACT: Who is the Plotinian spoudaios and what is his function in the Enneads? This question turns out to be fundamental, especially when trying to make out an ethical dimension in Plotinus. Treatise I 4 [46] offers, concerning that question, not only the longest sustained discussion of the spoudaios, but also shows how highly problematic it is to figure out more precisely his characteristics. This is due to the terminological ambiguity with the term sophos, which is also the reason why the two terms are often considered synonymous by translators. It appears in I 4 that this ambiguity is closely related to the question of aisthesis. And this is also perhaps the main problematic point concerning the spoudaios: he is instituted by Plotinus as the paradigm of the ‘living man,’ but is still described as someone who has detached himself from the bounds of the sensible world. So this leads to several conclusions concerning the Plotinian conception of ethical implication.

1. status questionis

Who is the plotinian spoudaios and what is his function in the Enneads? This question occurs especially in regard to treatise I 4 [46] which offers the longest sustained discussion of the spoudaios.

The main problem which presents itself as regards the term spoudaios is its apparent terminological similarity with sophos. As most translations show, both terms seem to be taken as almost synonymous, the most problematic one being Bréhier's French translation of the Enneads where spoudaios and sophos figure as the wise (le sage). This has mainly to do with the tradition of the term of spoudaios, as will be shown further on.

What I would like to show in this paper is that the function of the spoudaios has been under-evaluated throughout studies on Plotinus; yet the definiton of his status is, as I shall try to make clear, precisely what could constitute an important contribution to ethical fundaments of Plotinus' philosophy.

In a search for specifical studies on the spoudaios in Plotinus, it appears that there aren't any, beside Heiser's remarks(1) which are based on the conception that the spoudaios is indeed already and fully an accomplished sage.(2)

Other studies on the spoudaios—and they are rare—refer mainly to the Aristotelian connotation of this term;(3) yet, it is indeed in and with Aristotle that the spoudaios obtains his specifical sense. Therefore, before trying to show who the Plotinian spoudaios is, a brief analysis of this term seems not only helpful but also necessary.

2. Brief etymological analysis

According to the LSJ(4) spoudaios (spoude) originally meant being in haste, quick, (for a person) being earnest, serious, zealous, and changed gradually to good, excellent, the sense of good becomming more and more a moral character, making therefore spoudaios synonymous with agathon. Not only is spoudaios used for persons, it can also describe things being worth serious attention, weighty, but also good and excellent in their kind.(5)

Generally one can say that this term made a transformation from a more outer description of being serious, to a more inner quality of moral virtue and goodness.

3. The spoudaios in Plato, Aristotle and the Stoics

3.1. Plato

While spoude occurs frequently in Plato, mostly opposed to paidia,(6) the term of spoudaios appears only in the Republic and in the Seventh Letter. In the Republic it comes precisely at the moment when the duty of returning into the cave is evoked, where one will have "to go down again among those bondsmen and share their labours and honours, whether they are of less or of greater worth (eite fauloterai eite spoudaioterai) (VII, 519d8). And in the Seventh Letter (344c) we find the aner spoudaios dealing with things which are ton ontos spoudiaon, these things being ta spoudaiotata, the unwritten thoughts, reserved as it seems to those who are themselves spoudaioi (eiper est' autos spoudaios).

Now the question remains, what the term of spoudaios means precisely here. Is it still in the sense of 'serious',(7) or is there not already another connotation, which would emphasize more the inner value of the term? Both quotations mark an important point concerning the interpretation of the spoudaios, since they express in maybe the clearest way in Plato its intrinsic inner value.

3.2. Aristotle

As various studies have already shown,(8) the spoudaios receives with Aristotle a much more specific place and function than before, which, even if somehow very near, is different from the sophos and even the phronimos. First of all, the Aristotelian spoudaios embodies a specific norm of mankind, giving him the status of highest ethical achievement, in a maybe more general sense than the phronimos.

One of the most explicite definition occurs in the Categories : "to gar areten echein spoudaios legetai "(10b8).(9) This conception is also frequent in Aristotle's Ethics.(10) The spoudaios is there again the man with the higest virtues: "to de spoudaios einai esti to tas aretas echein" (MM, 1181a30). Throughout the texts, the spoudaios is always the man who still remains in constant action, implying himself within the world and especially within human matters and who, therefore, attains his moral virtue. This point is for us most important, as it underlines the relation between the serious effort and the moral virtue which results out of it. Yet nowhere is the spoudaios put on the level of the sophos. The spoudaios aner keeps his specific implication of kalokagathia and megalopsychia, which makes him the paradigm of the eudaimon bios. Thus, the most noble friendship is the one undertaken with such a spoudaios. So the spoudaios is good in all respects, no matter how one may look at him; he is always sober, serious and excellent, so that he functions indeed as the ultimate sanction in the Aristotelian ethical scheme. He is the norm and mesure of all real good or goods.(11)

3.3. Stoics

With the Stoics, the question of the status of the spoudaios becomes complicated in a way that makes all attempt to determine who exactly he is almost hopeless. It seems as if the spoudaios in his moral highness has attained such a perfection that he reaches the same level as the sophos. Or, on the contrary, the Stoic sophos is so deeply determined from an ethical point of view that he has indeed all qualities of the spoudaios. A short look at some fragments will give already an impression of that ambiguity. It might seem, from some fragments, as if the sophos still remains in a specific status, being for example solely the priest as it seems (ierea monon einai ton sophon, SVF(12), 604), the spoudaios being the mantikos (kai mantikon de monon einai ton spoudaion, SVF, 605). Yet, there turns out to be no clear distinction between the priest and the oracular, as in other fragments the sophos is designed as the mantikos (monon de ton sophon kai mantin agathon einai, SVF, 654), and also the spoudaios himself figures sometimes as divine (theious te einai, SVF, 606). This goes even so far as to make God himself spoudaios (spoudaios estin ho theos, SVF, 661).

There are a lot of other examples to show the quasi-synonymity of both terms; much more difficult would it be to try to make out even the slightest sign of a probable discernment between the terms. Yet it seems as if a treatise of Philo entitled: "peri ton panta spoudaion eleutheron einai"(13) might offer such a possibility of distinction, even though in a very precarious way. Whithout entering here in too much detail, it could just be said that Philo uses the term of spoudaios clearly to underline its ethical implication, the sophos being rather on that same level too.

Finally, one could say that in the Stoic texts which we have at our disposition a high ambiguity concerning the relation between spoudaios and sophos has to be established and is certainly the main reason for the following problems of situating the spoudaios in Plotinus.

4. The spoudaios in I 4 [46]

Throughout this treatise the spoudaios figures as a paradigm of the man who has attained eudaimonia. Different questions have to be examined in detail concerning this term: first of all, it has to be determined what this concept implies specifically for Plotinus, i.e. why precisely the spoudaios occurs more often than the sophos in this treatise; the next question being then what specific function the sophos has, if he has one, or if they have to be taken as synonymous.

The first occurence of the spoudaios in I 4 is in chapter 4, while giving a nearer definition of who can attain eudaimonia, that means, who can have perfect life. The first requirement is that this person will not only be related to aisthesis, but also, and principally, to logismos and nous (4, 6-8). Only this kind of man possesses actively the perfect life, and is therefore totally self-sufficient; now, precisely while naming this man, the term of spoudaios is used ("kai spoudaios, e autarkes—eis eudaimonian kai eis ktesin agathou",(14) 4, 23-25). All he seeks in this world is not for "him" but for "his body", which just "belongs" to him. Therefore the ananke which he can't avoid is still not a hindrance to his eudaimonia (4, 26-29). Already the peculiar relation between body and intellect presents itself as a main point concerning the spoudaios, for he is still in his body, therefore still related to aisthesis, but in a special kind of presence. Plotinus thus assigns a double rôle to the spoudaios: being in his body in this world like a human being, but, nevertheless, being also related to another source—the true one—which makes him be already, in a certain way, independant of all that happens in aisthesis. This duality which defines the spoudaios even turns out to be a main point of demarcation for Plotinus with his opponents, as chapter 5 in particular indicates. It is necessary to look more precisely at that kind of duality. For, according to Plotinus, the spoudaios is certainly not exempt from bodily pain or misfortune, but on the other hand he is not really affected by them. So, how shall this attitude be defined? And also, which kind of relation exists between the different 'levels'? Plotinus underlines that it is not a rejection of the body, but rather an acceptance as it seems; but, nevertheless, all things which might happen during the spoudaios' life are not at all hindering his eudaimonia.(15) All depends on where one puts eudaimonia, that it, to which part of man it is related. And it is clear that for Plotinus this part resides in nous. But this still does not answer the question of the attitude one has to adopt towards aisthesis and the things related to it, while speaking of eudaimonia.

The spoudaios is in that regard the paradigm from which investigations are to start, as chapter 9 finally indicates: "But we are taking the spoudaios as our starting-point, and enquiring if he is well off as long as he is spoudaios"(16) (9, 8-9). This starting-point is a kind of criticism of the views of his predecessors which Plotinus had been discussing throughout chapter 5-8. And it is certainly not innocuous that the spoudaios figures here as precisely Plotinus' own starting-point, wheras the same term had been largely used before. So one can even go so far as to submit that Plotinus is operating here on different levels of criticism, whereas the spoudaios recieves precisely a new connotation, so as to make clear, like the term of eudaimonia, that it would make no sense to take it in the way his opponents did. Chapter 11 confirms this supposition, where, while criticizing the Stoic view (11,1-2), he marks his own approach: "we shall ask them to take as their starting-point a living man (ton zonta) and a spoudaios and so to pursue the enquiry into his well-being" (3-6).

The main point is to give the spoudaios his right status, which is for Plotinus to concede him being all inner man and so not being affected by outer things. Nevertheless, his attitude towards other men is always kind in a remaining concern for outer happenings, but still his real desire is directed inward. Chapter 12 gives nearer indications about how to identify the real spoudaios: he is always happy (hileos), in a constant state of tranquility (aei kai katastasis hesuchos), content and undisturbed (agapete he diathesis) by any evil (8-9); only if these qualities are to be found can the man be called a spoudaios, as the "eiper spoudaios" (10) well indicates.

Through this capacity of turning inward, anchored in nous, the dichotomy between inner and outer self, between soul and body, appears in, as we shall see further on, the most problematic way, as is expressed in chapter 14: "…especially the spoudaios is not the composite of soul and body; separation from the body and despising of its so-called goods make this plain" (14, 1-4).

The main problem here is to be found in the attitude the spoudaios has towards aisthesis, his body being intimately linked with it. According to this passage, the spoudaios not only despises his body, aisthesis even constitutes a real danger for him: "…nor again does it [eudaimonia] consist in the excellence of the senses, for too much of these advantages is liable (kinduneuo) to weigh man down and bring him to their level" (14, 9-11). So, in a certain way, the spoudaios is someone who knows which attitude adopt to leave this danger behind him, that means, that he, through his eagerness manages to be at least not totally captured by it. But at the same time the Plotinian conception of the relation between inner and outer world, which could also be seen as the relation between nous and aisthesis, is far from rejecting totally this part of aisthesis. This is one of the most difficult points to make out in this treatise, especially if we still want to give the spoudaois a paradigmatic function.

A further point indicates that the status of the spoudaios is problematic indeed: in the continuation of the discussion about aisthesis, one is struck by the appearence of the sophos himself, as if in that regard it would be necessary to take him directly as the ultimate example. Two sorts of men are compared, on the one hand the one "who belongs to this world" (ho de ton tede anthropon, 14, 14), on the other hand the sophos: "the sophos will perhaps not have them at all [worldly advantages], and if he has them will himself reduce them, if he cares for his true self" (14, 17-19). One might of course say that the choice of speaking of the sophos and not any more of the spoudaios here is arbitrary, and has no more consequences, so that both terms should be taken as synonymous. Yet, this would be too much of a simplification, as the context seems not to be at all arbitrary. Thus it goes even so far as to compare two sophoi, one with another (all' ei duo eien sophoi, 15, 1) as regards the advantages they might have or not from aisthesis. Plotinus underlines clearly that this would only then be no hindrance, if these men would be "equally wise" (eiper epises sophoi, 15, 3), because these external things have "nothing to do with sophia" (15, 4). Nevertheless, they are neither completely separated from it, nor even released from fear or passion when concerned with outer things; but, all the difference, as it seems, lies in the capacity of the sophos to quieten almost instantly with a "severe look" these emotions (15, 16-21). And it is also the sophos himself who is taken as being the "best friend", since he maintains constantly the capacity of remaining in nous. One could start to wonder where the spoudaios has been abandoned, or better, why he has been left out in that question, since these two aspects (attitude toward outer things and other men) had already been evoked concerning the spoudaios in the former chapters. So, how is this to be taken?

Things get clearer perhaps when the spoudaios makes his appearence anew at the beginnig of chapter 16 in a way which might indicate a connotation different from sophos: "if anyone does not set the spoudaios up on the high in this world of intellect, but brings him down to chance events…" (16, 1-2), this person would of course be wrong as he would assume the spoudaios having a life of mixture of good and bad, which couldn't be. But why is it here again the spoudaios and not the sophos?

The main reason is certainly that here again the part which is not related to intellect is underlined, even though Plotinus wants to say that the spoudaios is not a man of such mixture. Another point is that this chapter takes up the metaphor of the lyre-player, which had already been given by Aristotle (NE 1098a9), the interesting point being that Aristotle uses that example precisely for the spoudaios

5. Elements of discussion

While trying to figure out some elements of closer definition concerning the Plotinian spoudaios, the occurence of the term sophos appears to be mostly embarassing, as one has real difficulties to discern them in their position one to another. The option of taking both as synonymous is indeed not completely absurd, as they do appear to share a great similarity. Yet the challenge is precisely to make out, under which conditions, it is possible to find a conceptual difference between them.

First of all, this question implies a careful look at the earlier use of both terms, as we have done briefly in this paper. This indeed shows that such a terminological ambiguity is mainly due to the Stoic texts, since Aristotle gives a specific status to the spoudaios. Yet, this raises several questions as regards the Plotinian spoudaios.

My hypothesis is that, first of all, the Plotinian spoudaios is not to be taken in the Stoic sense, notwithstanding the difficulties of understanding it, including in Plotinus. Much more, I would be inclined to see the Plotinian use of the spoudaios as a kind of tool of demarcation as regards his predecessors/opponents, whereas the Aristotelian implication seems on several respects the nearest to Plotinus.

This, in fact, seems to be the main point which has to be put forward, as it implies several conclusions which are of great importance for the ethical theory of Plotinus.

Plotinus indeed is arguing against different opponents, which are not always easy to identify. Yet, it appears that throughout chapters 4-8 in which these opponents are considered, the term of spoudaios appears very often, as if it were a term which, like eudaimonia, would have to be reexamined in its right application. Even the fact of taking the spoudaios as "starting-point" might indicate that it is in view of redefining its "true" meaning. But what does this meaning imply? As it seems, it implies first of all the question of duality, namely between aisthesis and nous, the most difficult point being what the relation to aisthesis implies. It has emerged that precisely this question of aisthesis becomes a crucial point in I 4, as it is concerning this point that the sophos appears. Now how is this to be understood? Why suddenly use sophos instead of continuing with spoudaios, and so entering into the terminological ambiguity of some of the predecessors Plotinus criticizes here?

One element could be that through this, Plotinus tries to avoid an ambiguity which could occur with spoudaios, since this term implies, in the Aristotelian sense notably, intrinsically a part of activity in and through aisthesis. Therefore it would not be possible to take the spoudaios as a paradigm of the man who has released himself almost totally from the bounds of aisthesis. Yet it is precisely what Plotinus is doing in the former chapters, even in the perspective of refuting the arguments of his predecessors. Yet, while giving his own opinion, he takes the sophos, whilst using almost the same arguments as those used before with the spoudaios.

Looking for a closer characteristic of the spoudaios, which was the purpose of this paper, it turns out to be a question which can't be answered merely with the elements of I 4 we have brought up. One would have to consider primarily in detail the implication in aisthesis and define more exactly the question of duality between aisthesis and nous. Therefore the treatises III 8 [30] and II 9 [33] turn out to be most interesting, especially as regards the relation to the spoudaios, as he appears there too.

Secondly, the position Plotinus gives the spoudaios as regards dianoia and logismos (V 3 [49]) can be considered as another element in favour of seeing in him a special paradigm, whilst on these points, of course, the question of the relation to the sophos persists. Yet, I think that one can go so far as to see in the spoudaios a Plotinian paradigm of men who are profondly determined by an ethical implication, and this in the first place through aisthesis.

Which specific aspects does the treatise I 4 gives us then concerning the spoudaios? First of all the general enquiry of I 4 concerns the eudaimonia of human beings, which already indicates its specific ethical implication. And the spoudaios figures precisely as the pardigm of that "living man", which indicates, too, the fundamental human character of that paradigm. So, notwithstandig the question of his attitude towards the aisthesis, the spoudaios has to be considered throughout I 4 as the paradigm of the ethical dimension in Plotinus. The question concerning the relation to the sophos would have to be considered from this perspective, and we have seen that chapter 16 gives us the possibility to make such suppositions. What I would therefore like to discuss is what concequences such an ethical paradigm has in Plotinus.


(1) Cf. J. H. Heiser, Logos and Language in the Philosophy of Plotinus, Lewiston/Queenston/Lampeter, 1991, p. 6, n. 14: "the term spoudaios, especially in the Hellenistic age, came to characterize someone of achieved philosophic wisdom". See also MacKenna's remark: "The Proficient translates spoudaios, and means the achieved Mystic, the Adept, almost the 'Uniate', the human being who has become wholly the Divine", in Plotinus. The Enneades,p. xxxiii.

(2) Calling him a "god-like being" (op.cit., p. 76) without, however, giving to this concept a Stoic connotation.("I do not believe Plotinus means the spoudaios to be the counterpart of the Stoic sage", ibid.)

(3) Cf. Sparshott (1994), Aubenque (1963), Dirlmeier (1956), Walzer (1929), Teichmüller (1869).

(4) Liddell/Scott/Jones, sv "spoudaios", p. 1630.

(5) Aristotle speaks in that way of a house (MM 1148b18), a horse (NE 1106a19), an eye (NE 1106a18) or a shoe (EE 1219a22)…

(6) Cf. especially Nomoi, VII 802e-804b, to which Plotinus makes several allusions (cf. III 8 [30]1; III 2 [47], 15, 52-56).

(7) Which is the option Bury takes in his translation: "every serious man", "with really serious subjects", "his most serious works" etc.

(8) See above.

(9) Yet, we can find a very similar formulation in the pseudoplatonic Definitions: "spoudaios: o teleios agathos; ho echon ten autou areten "(415e).

(10) Even though within the three Ethics the status of the spoudaios turns out not to be totally equivalent. It is not possible to discuss further this point, as it would lead to considerations which go beyond the purpose of this paper.

(11) NE III, 1113a32-33.

(12) H. v. Arnim, Stoicorum veterum fragmenta, Teubner, Stuttgart, 1964, vol. III.

(13) In Philo, vol. IX, trad. Colson, p. 10-100.

(14) Which is the Henry-Schwyzer version, while Armstrong and Bréhier read: "kan spoudaios e autarkes…"

(15) Which is the classic argument since Aristotle, NE, I. 10. 1100a8 and 11. 1101a8.

(16) All quotations are from Armstrongs translation, whereas I keep the Greek terms for spoudaios and sophos, so to avoid further ambiguities.