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A Variation on the Dog and His Bone:
The Unity of the World in
Plotinian Philosophy (Ennead VI.4-5 [22-23])

Douglas Hadley
Boston Unversity

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ABSTRACT: Do classical, contemplative philosophies have anything to teach which is relevant to life here and now? In the case of Plotinus, yes. While Platonic metaphysics is most often summarized as dualistic, where one sensible world stands apart from and in tension with an intelligible (or mystical) world, in the case of Plotinus this interpretation is incorrect. He does distinguish between sensibles and sense-experience, on one hand, and intelligibles and intelligible experience, on the other; but the two belong together intimately: both are located in the same space, and the sensible is related to the intelligible as a shadow to its object or a reflection to what it reflects. Plotinus’ world is one. Given this picture, one rightly wonders at the status of the Plotinian exhortation for the soul to flee "alone to the Alone." Does not the journey of the soul to its source require a passing beyond of this world to some other? No, Plotinus exhortation should be understood as a reorientation, a reordering within the world here and now, not a rejection of one reality in favor of some other. This can be likened to Aesop’s fable, "The Dog and the Bone," where the dog had the choice between one real and one illusory bone, not two separate bones. Similarly, Plotinus’ world, though it can be perceived dualistically, is ontologically one; hence his metaphysics, far from otherworldly, offers a means of understanding life as it is to be lived here and now.

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My paper takes as the starting point for its argument the traditional interpretation (and classic criticism) of Platonic metaphysics as a two worlds view of reality: one world, that which includes this room of people, i.e., the here and now which is characterized by change, disorder, conflict, coming to be and passing out of being, corruption, etc.; and another world, located who knows where, but certainly not identical to what we see around us at present, the realm of changelessness and order, ontological perdurance, harmony, unity: Plato's "plain of Truth", the residence of the forms. In light of these two worlds, the Platonic philosopher's wisdom, whatever it may be, must be a wisdom not of this world. Indeed, did not Plato's Socrates himself say that his life— the philosophical life— was the art of practising death? Should that Socrates— or anyone who professes to be a Platonic philosopher— show up at, let us say, the World Congress of Philosophy, we should, if we allow entry at all, offer such a person only a seat in the back row. For the Platonist, we must say, does not and cannot educate us on the here and now: Platonic wisdom is for the next world, not this one.(1)

Here I argue that this view of Platonic philosophy is not a necessary one. Using the thought of one particular Platonic — perhaps I should say, Neoplatonic — philosopher, namely, Plotinus, I argue that one may accept the metaphysics of Platonic forms, of perfect eternals, of unchanging being, without labeling it and its wisdom as otherworldly. Focusing upon Enneads VI.4-5, I begin by noting Plotinus' own distinction in these treatises between on the one hand, lower, sensible, here, instance, and higher, intelligible, There, form, on the other. Such distinctions for Plotinus are philosophically necessary because, as certain of Plato's dialogues argue, what is sensible (i.e., what comes exclusively from or through the five senses) is on its own lacking in the order, identity, stability, unity, etc. which are characteristics of being. Thus what is sensible (lower, etc.) can only be said to be insofar as it stands under or participates in the intelligible or higher, etc. So, two worlds? No. Within these same two treatises, Plotinus offers at least three separate arguments that such a distinction (as is called for similarily in, e.g., Plato's Theaetetus) does not necessarily presuppose any duality of body and mind, let alone two compartmentalized realms of bodies, on the one hand, and ideas, on the other. After reviewing these arguments, I close with several possible objections to this interpretation of Plotinus, concluding that such a metaphysics is and can and must be a wisdom of this world, not some other. The full range and meaning of the consequences of such an argument are not explored here; rather, it is intended to promote general discussion of Plotinus, (Neo)Platonists, and philosophers as educators of humanity.

I. 'Lower' and 'Higher' in Plotinian Metaphysics

In chapter five of treatise VI.4, Plotinus establishes a rather remarkable metaphysical priority. To this point in the essay, he has been talking about a number of weighty philosophical problems which center on the nature of being in itself or in relation to body.(2) Now he describes the special nature of Being:

And its greatness is to be understood in this way, not consisting in bulk; for bulk is a little thing, going to nothing if one takes away from it. ... But we must not say that this is less, nor, because we assume that it is less in bulk, lose confidence at this stage because it is impossible for the less to extend to what is greater than itself. For "less" should not be predicated of it, nor should one set bulk and the bulkless side by side by measuring them...nor on the other side should one think that [the true All] is greater in the sense of quantitative measurement, since this does not apply to the soul either: this is how the great and small of body is. But there is evidence of the greatness of soul in the fact that when the bulk becomes greater the same soul reaches to the whole of it which was in the lesser bulk. For it would be ridiculous in many ways if one added bulk to soul as well.(3)

That which has bulk — that which is bodily, visible, extended — is contrasted here with what does not, namely, what is intelligible, invisible, concentrated. For Plotinus, the latter, not the former, is primary; it is 'more', not less, than what is extended. But some persons consider the intelligible to be less real and less important than body — understandably: 'body' is very immediate to one's senses, sensible impressions strongly dominate human awareness, one is taught to locate being in the bodily range of experience.(4) Nevertheless, it is a metaphysical mistake:

For each and every primary reality is not what is perceived by the senses: for the form on the matter in the things of sense is an image of the real form, and every form which is in something else comes to it from something else and is a likeness of that from which it comes. ... [A]nd this All shows by its participation in appearances that the real beings are other than they; the real beings are unchanging, but the appearances change, the real beings are set firm on themselves and need no place: for they are not magnitudes; they have an intelligent existence sufficient to themselves. For the nature of bodies wants to be preserved by something else, but Intellect upholds by its wonderful nature the things which fall down by themselves, and does not look for a place to be set in.(5)

The classic Platonic doctrine of participation here manifests itself in Plotinian metaphysics: that which is intelligible (i.e., 'form'), since it is one, stable, self-identical, unlike that which is sensible, truly exists; and it provides that which is sensible with whatever being it has. Thus, form or being is power;(6) it is true existence and true life;(7) it is the source of all that which does not exist from itself. Conversely, whatever comes into and passes out of existence cannot be said to be fully or truly; it exists only by virtue of its (temporary) participation in that which always is the same, that which is "unbounded in power":

If, then, time is related by analogy to that which abides in the same in substance, but that nature is not only unbounded because it is always but unbounded in power, one must also grant besides this unboundedness of power a nature running along over against it, swinging alongside that nature as it hangs from it; this nature runs, somehow in step with time, to the abiding power which is greater [than it] by making [it], and whatever it is is somewhat extended along it and participates in this nature as far as it is possible for it to participate....(8)

There is, then, in the Plotinian cosmos, a higher "nature" of unboundedness, and beside it or under it, a lower "nature" which relies on that higher principle. The true existent is the higher; that which participates is the lower;(9) it is in the higher(10) and depends on the higher,(11) while the higher produces (somehow) what is lower,(12) and is present, but not confined, to it.(13)

II. The Unity of the World

Thus far, we have an apparent duality: sensibles and intelligibles are both accorded existence (of some sort) by Plotinus. But it is only apparent, for elsewhere within Enneads VI.4-5, Plotinus gives (at least) three explanations that this duality is a unity. First, the lower half of the metaphysical equation (i.e., 'body') exists only as an image, thus it is not independent. Second, what a 'body' is— what any visible 'object' is— comes from Being; its meaning, or definition, or truth, or rational essence, is its form; hence it is able to lay no claim, in and of itself, to being, i.e. to being what it is because in itself it is nothing— no 'what'. Third, Being (the 'intelligible world') is not confined to a specific place in space and time; it is incorporeal, hence fully present everywhere.

Let us begin with the first explanation. One helpful metaphor which Plotinus frequently refers to in order to explain the relation of 'bodily reality' and 'intelligible reality' is that of an image and its source. For example, in VI.4.10, he compares this metaphysical relation of form and particular to the relation between a painter and a painting, though emphasizing an important difference:

....[F]or what made the painting was not the body of the painter or the [bodily] form which was represented; and it is not the painter, but this particular disposition of the colours, which should be said to make this particular likeness. This is not in the strict and proper sense the making of likeness and image as it occurs in pools and mirrors, or in shadows-- here the image has its existence in the strict and proper sense from the prior original, and comes to be from it, and it is not possible for what has come to be to exist cut off from it.(14)

Unlike a painting which, once made, remains in being despite the absence of the painter, 'things becoming', as images of Being, do not exist if cut off from it. The sensible, in other words, does not exist outside of Being. It is not independent:

And then further, just as the image of something, like the weaker light, if cut off from that from which it is, would no longer exist, and in general one cannot cut off and make exist [separately] anything at all which derives its existence from something else and is its image, these powers also which came from that first could not exist cut off from it.(15)

This quotation corrects the view that there are two ontologically separate and equivalent worlds: in the Plotinian cosmos we have only one existing thing— namely, Being. It is the sort of thing which gives of itself: like a sun, it radiates light; like an object in front of a mirror, it gives itself to be reflected; like a fire, it gives off heat. But it does not thereby create an ontologically independent 'thing'. The sensible image (i.e., that which is body or that which 'becomes')(16) exists only in the manner of an object in a mirror,(17) or heat from a fire,(18) or light from a sun.(19) There are not, then, two things in the Plotinian world: there exists only one thing, and then there is that thing's shadow.(20) The shadow does not add to existence; it (only) reflects it.(21) Thus the Plotinian world is one, not two.

The second explanation or defense of unity is that the sensible derives its meaning from Being: what each particular sensible 'object' is comes from Being, thus it is as dependent on Being epistemologically(22) as ontologically. Hence, to identify a tree as a tree is to identify the form, Tree, in the particular; the senses report 'brown', 'green', 'barky', 'strong', 'tall', but do not and cannot yield identity or existence as there is no meaning in, no identification of, thought in absence of definition: "Whenever then you say it [i.e., form] is in many things, you are not saying that it has become many, but you are fitting what happens to the many to that one when you see it all at once in the many."(23) Plotinus prioritizes Being (or form) over becoming by contrasting our many sensorial impressions of objects in the world with our intellectual grasp of the 'one' (or form) "in them". He is ordering these impressions underneath our intellectual sight of clear, distinct, stable definitions, insofar as the one form or being can be seen in its many instances while not being simply identical to any one of them. It remains above or beyond even as it is within them; i.e., it is undeniably in them, but "it belongs to itself and is itself."(24)

An example will be helpful here; say, ten wooden chairs and the form, Chair. The form is in each— how else could each be the chair it is? But it is not confined to each— how else could there be more than one instance? Still, the multiplicity of the instances remains to be explained. The ten chairs, for instance, are undeniably many; they are, then, somehow other than the form which is in each, making each to be what it is. But do they then have some 'knowability' on their own? Asking the same question more generally, is that which is 'lower' (or 'below') capable of being known apart from its participation in what is higher— apart from its being in the higher? The answer is no: for Plotinus, the sensible can only be as the intelligible in a dim way. To see ten different chairs is to see the form, Chair, in ten different appearances. Being many, then, is itself a dim way of seeing (and of imitating) unity, and seeing the sensible is a dim way of seeing what is intelligible— and vice versa. Plotinus puts the point clearly in what follows:

But our discussion was about how the power of sense-perception belongs to man and how those intelligible realities do not look to coming to birth; and it appeared to us, and our argument showed, that those realities do not look to the things here below but these are dependent on those and imitate those, and that this man here below has his powers from that intelligible man and looks to those realities, and these sense-objects are linked to this man and those others to that; for those sense-objects, which we called so because they are bodies, are apprehended in a different way; and that this sense-perception here below is dimmer than the apprehension there in the intelligible, which we called sense-perception because it is of bodies and which is clearer. And for this reason this man here has sense-perception, because he has a lesser apprehension of lesser things, images of those intelligible realities; so that these sense-perceptions here are dim intellections, but the intellections there are clear sense-perceptions.(25)

And elsewhere:

For even here below a thoughtful life is majesty and beauty in truth, though it is dimly seen. But there it is seen clearly; for it gives to the seer sight and power to live more, and by living more intensely to see and become what he sees. For here below most of our attention is directed to lifeless things.... But when you contemplate the substance running through them, giving them a life which does not move by changing, and the thought and the wisdom and knowledge in them, you will laugh at the lower nature for its pretension to substantiality. For by this substance life abides and intellect abides, and the real beings stand still in eternity; nothing puts it out of itself or alters it or makes it deviate; for there is nothing beside it to get a grip on it; but if there was anything, it would exist because of it.(26)

We do not, in this view, have two kinds of knowable things. Any apprehension of the sensible, any sensorially perceived image, is a communication of Being, for all is form and nothing is known except form. But one can catch hold of form, as it were, in different ways, some of which are more, some less, comprehensive.(27) Thus there are not two competing groups of objects to be known in the world, not a world of sensibles here, a world of intelligibles there. Rather, the range of knowable objects is one; that which is clearly knowable and meaningful is Being, that which derives its meaning from Being is the sensible.(28) There may be two kinds of apprehension, and our different capacities for knowing may in fact lead to the appearance of two separate kinds of objects;(29) but Plotinus sees the many as existing as what they are (only) in their 'ones': what each is can only be traced back to their forms. Hence again there is for Plotinus only one world— though one that may be apprehended diversely.

There is one final defense of one world, one that is concerned with the incorporeal nature of Being. Plotinus speaks candidly in what follows concerning Being's incorporeality:

For, I think, it is probable, and indeed necessary, that the ideas are not placed separately on one side and matter a long way off on the other and then illumination comes to matter from somewhere up there: I am afraid this would be empty words. For what would "far off" and "separately" mean in this context? ... But now we must speak more precisely and not assume that the Form is spatially separate and then the Idea is reflected in matter as if in water, but that matter, from every side grasping (and again not grasping) the Idea, receives from the Form, over the whole of itself, by its drawing near to it all that it can receive, with nothing between....(30)

The point here is that form is not separate from the instance in space, for the simple reason that anything which is incorporeal has no magnitude nor is located at certain spatial coordinates. In other words, there is no spatial 'here and there' in incorporeal reality:

Now if this is real being and remains the same and does not depart from itself and there is no coming-to-be about it and, as was said, it is not in place, it is necessary for it, being in this state, to be always with itself, and not to stand away from itself; one part of it cannot be here and another there, nor can anything come out of it; [for if it did] it would already be in different places....(31)

Whatever is not bodily has no here and there to speak of; it is not confined to one location precisely because it has no body, which by its nature is here and not there.(32) Thus all intelligibles are present here and now; i.e., that which is sensible is permeated by what is intelligible; the invisible saturates the visible. Plotinus celebrates this remarkable presence throughout Ennead VI.4-5: "we are not cut off even now" and "it must be present whole if it is present at all";(33) "we are in the same with the Good", "we are within them", "we have not then departed from being, but are in it", "for it is presence".(34) He celebrates it elsewhere, as well,(35) and thus concludes that all things, visible or not, knowable and otherwise, sensible and intelligible, all the levels of the universe, are present as we speak:

But when in this kind of enquiry you adopt a rational approach to these things and get into difficulties and enquire where you should put them, put away these things which you regard as majestic on the second level, and do not add the seconds to the first or the thirds to the seconds, but set the seconds around the first and the thirds around the second. For thus you will leave each of them as they are and will make the things which come after depend upon those higher realities which exist in independence as the later things circle round them. This is why it is rightly said in this regard also "All things are around the King of all and all are for the sake of that King"; Plato is speaking of all the real beings and says "for the sake of that King", since he is the cause of their being and they, we may say, strive after him....(36)

There is, therefore, just one world for Plotinus, just one throne room, as it were, in which all things are ordered and ranked in relation to their divine source, which is present to all of them. There is only one world, not two; one reality, all of it always fully present— even though not always fully apprehended by all.(37)

III. Objections

Thus far, we have given three arguments on behalf of a single world interpretation of Plotinus. His is not a double world view, wherein all that is seen— 'the sensible world'— might stand in some kind of independence relative to an incorporeal world. Rather, there is only one world, one set of truly existing objects, which however is able to be seen more or less unitively. In striving to make this argument, however, we have left at least three objections unanswered. Each objection is rightly asked of the Plotinian world-view, and each, in demanding a response (however brief), will help to draw out more clearly the one-world view of Plotinus.

The first objection runs something like this: we keep talking about 'the sensible' and 'the intelligible' as if they were two separate things despite our arguments that they are not two separate things. Plotinus himself speaks in the same way in a number of the excerpts above: in VI.6.18, he speaks of "lifeless things"; in VI.5.11, he posits the "nature" which hangs below Being; in VI.6.18 again, he speaks of the sensible as having pretensions. Granted that the sensible is less or lower than true Being: but 'less' and 'lower' still constitute the sensible as 'something', no?

There are several easy answers to this critical question— and a very difficult one. The easy ones follow from the first two demonstrations above. We are able to talk about 'the sensible' as if it were something on its own, separate from its intelligible source, in the same manner that we are able to speak of a mirror-reflection as if it were, not simply a reflection, but another, independent object in the world. We know that our reflection in the bathroom mirror is not truly another self; it is one's self reflected. Still, we are able to talk of it as if it were separate.

More expansively, we are in fact able to speak of appearances as if they actually constituted being— indeed, as if they actually constituted an entire world. This point was examined above; another way of looking at it is in comparison with the written word. One looks at words— say, in a book— in order to see through them, of course. That is how one reads; that is how one enjoys a favorite book. But one can of course look at the surface of a word just as easily as its inner meaning. A child— i.e., one who cannot read— can have great fun playing with words to the complete exclusion of actually reading them.

We can think about sensibles (or, the words in themselves) and intelligibles (or, the meaning) in the same way and thus offer another answer to the objection. But this answer sheds light on a disturbing, and difficult-to-answer, dimension to the original problem, namely, what is a word (i.e., the image or the sensible) in the absence of its meaning (i.e., the intelligible)? Because the sensible is not simply or strictly identical to its form (i.e., to what it really is), what is it on its own, or, what is it apart from the form? It must be something, states the objection, because multiplicity is a fact of life (and, for that matter, of thought).

For Plotinus, there is only a difficult and problematic answer to this question. The answer would appear to begin and end with matter.(38) It is through matter that the unity of a form can be extended into multiplicity; it is through the influence of matter that bodies are generated— even though all production begins from what is higher, and any coming into being below Intellect is in fact a "fading away"(39) or a lessening by addition.(40) But does he not say, or suggest, that matter itself is a kind of form?(41) Moreover, we do not solve the problem even if we liken matter to the surface of a mirror on which objects (forms) are reflected (thereby creating sensible likenesses). For in this case, matter itself is a 'something'— which itself could only be what it is by participating in form; hence we find ourselves right back where we started. The only conclusion that can be drawn at this point, then, is that we can talk about the sensible as if it were something on its own within the framework of Plotinian metaphysics; what the answer is to the deeper mystery of multiplicity in itself, however, must await further study.(42)

There is a second objection. This one would state plainly that in the Enneads Plotinus himself speaks of two worlds, or at least of two objects, inasmuch as he makes frequent grammatical use of the term ko/smon, or simply uses ai)/sqhto/j and nohtoj/ (or any of their variants), or e)kei=noj when speaking of intelligibles and sensibles. The objection is thoughtful, but any fruitful discussion would demand first of all a thorough textual survey of the actual terms which Plotinus employs in speaking of intelligibles, sensibles, and their relation, and second, a comparison of his use of these terms with their use in Plato and other Platonic (among other) predecessors of Plotinus. In the absence of such groundwork, suffice to limit a response to what follows. First, the actual use by Plotinus of the demonstrative pronouns mentioned above (among others) and of ai)sqhto/j and nohto/j, in addition to pa=n or fu/sij (both sometimes used in reference to sensibles and intelligibles), does not necessarily demand that he is referring to two worlds. None of these terms inherently includes the concept of 'world'— not, at least, in the sense of ontologically independent level or dimension of reality. Second, in an informal survey of Enneads V and VI, I am able to find only a small handful of actual references to ko/smon ai)sqhto/n. (43) In looking at Armstrong's translation in the Loeb library, however, there is frequent — almost constant— substantification of such terms as those listed above. Must Armstrong's translation of e)n t%= ai)sqht%= be "in the perceptible world"?(44) Third, Plotinus' use of 'here' and 'there' as referents to sensibles and intelligibles is perfectly justified by what we outlined above in his metaphysics. One can point to the sensible without necessarily making it an object, without opposing it to its form. Again, it does not seem necessary to translate demonstrative pronouns into ontological realms.(45) Fourth, in reference to those places where Plotinus would seem to be making a mistake, i.e., where he is not doing grammatical justice to his metaphysics, it is by no means unreasonable to remind ourselves that Plotinus was not a rhetor, nor even a teacher of Greek. He was, in fact, a sloppy writer;(46) hence we should not expect to find that his writing matches his thought completely. Fifth, any use of the term 'world' in respect to sensibles is in fact not wholly nor always out of place: we can use "sense world" to refer to the sphere of experience which is multiple and spread-out so long as we stop short (though it may be difficult to do) of seeing sensibles as completely other than and independent of intelligibles. Finally and most importantly, in the above working-out of Plotinian metaphysics, we have reasoned our way into the unity of Plotinus' world; we have demonstrated the rational necessity of one world in Plotinus. While close attention to how this philosopher communicates is to be expected of any interpretation of his thought, nevertheless, any investigation into grammar or specific word-choice should bear in mind the overall metaphysical structure of Plotinian thought.

One final objection remains. Has not Plotinian philosophy made its deepest impression on western philosophy, religion, and literature in its moving pleas to ascend beyond all sensible and intelligible levels of experience with the aim of attaining union with the mystical One which lies beyond all else? I.e., these explanations of 'one world' do not seem to do justice to the infamous Plotinian exhortations for the soul to take its mystical journey into the ineffability beyond being. Are we not forced by such exhortations to see at least two worlds in Plotinus, one the ordinary, the other the mystical and extraordinary?

Plotinus, it is true, advises that all is not well with life here and now. Improvement or redemption is in order; i.e., there is a journey that must be taken in order for human beings to achieve true life and happiness (and for the metaphysician to achieve true insight into the nature of reality). This much is true. Yet the journey is not away from temporal concerns and things and affairs as such, but rather, from excessive attentiveness to the temporal and, even more importantly, from inattentiveness to all that lies within our grasp at the moment.(47) Two passages alone may suffice to illustrate the Plotinian thinking about the character of this journey. First, from the treatise "Against the Gnostics":

But if any of the parts of the universe is moved according to its nature, the parts with whose nature the movement is not in accord suffer, but those which are moved go on well, as parts of the whole; but the others are destroyed because they are not able to endure the order of the whole; as if when a great company of dancers was moving in order a tortoise was caught in the middle of its advance and trampled because it was not able to get out of the way of the ordered movement of the dancers: yet if it had ranged itself with that movement, even it would have taken no harm from them.(48)

Here the cosmos is seen as a great ballroom, within which creatures dance together to divine music. The difficulty is that some do not pay attention to the music, some have forgotten the correct steps, some bump into each other, stumble over their own feet, and (thereby) fail to participate in the harmonious movement of the whole. But lack of participation does not mean spatial separation: those who are out of harmony with the universe are not locked into some universe other than that in which the King— the One or Good, and Being, etc.— rule. Nothing ordinary is separated from the center of reality as if by a brick wall or heavy door. Reality's dance is ongoing, here and now, for Plotinus, although some of the participants have the stumbling feet of a tortoise, not of ballet-artists. The solution, however, is to take dancing lessons, not to reject the dancing or the music.(49)

In the next excerpt, Plotinus makes the same point with a more focused emphasis:

That One, therefore, since it has no otherness is always present, and we are present to it when we have no otherness; and the One does not desire us, so as to be around us, but we desire it, so that we are around it. And we are always around it but do not always look to it; it is like a choral dance: in the order of its singing the choir keeps round its conductor but may sometimes turn away, so that he is out of their sight, but when it turns back to him it sings beautifully and is truly with him; so we too are always around him-- and if we were not, we should be totally dissolved and no longer exist --but not always turned to him; but when we do look to him, then we are at our goal and at rest and do not sing out of tune as we truly dance our god-inspired dance around him.(50)

Clearly, then, for Plotinus we dwell presently in the presence of divinity (all of reality) but are turned away from it. We are facing the wrong direction, thus experience the same sort of trouble faced by an orchestra or choir which is not paying attention to the conductor. In order to gain sound knowledge and truer life— greater order, rest, stability— the questing soul needs to re-orient, thereby seeing what was always there but which was not seen previously: "But if you went away, it was not from it— for it is present— and you did not even go away then, but were present and turned the opposite way.(51)

In sum, then, Plotinus does advocate a journey, but it is not spatial:

"Let us fly to our dear country." What then is our way of escape and how are we to find it? ... How shall we travel to it, where is our way of escape? We cannot get there on foot; for our feet only carry us everywhere in this world, from one country to another. You must not get ready a carriage, either, or a boat. Let all these things go....(52)

One moves without moving, journeys without changing place, because it is not the present world which is bad but a lack of attentiveness to the whole of reality and the subsequent disordering of one's life and thought; i.e., disordered involvement with the world is the problem, not the world itself. Human beings have let secondary things serve as principles to the first; we let the surface obscure the depths; we allow time to stand in the place of eternity; indeed, we look only to what is visible, thinking that it alone is present and relevant, thus overlooking the great beauties which are here and now right in front of us:

For if a man runs to the image and wants to seize it as if it was the reality (like a beautiful reflection playing on the water, which some story somewhere, I think, said riddlingly a man wanted to catch and sank down into the stream and disappeared) then this man who clings to beautiful bodies and will not let them go, will, like the man in the story, but in soul, not in body, sink down into the dark depths where intellect has no delight, and stay blind in Hades, consorting with shadows there and here.(53)

Perhaps Plotinus is thinking here of Aesop's dog, squatting on the edge of a bridge with his teeth locked onto a juicy bone but with his eyes focused on the bone's deceptive reflection in the water. What the dog smells comes from what already lies between his lips; what he can almost taste is already balanced in his mouth; what he anticipates eating is in fact ready for the feasting. With his eyes focused on the shadow of the meal, however, he mistakes the image for the reality. The solution is to learn to to refocus our eyes on that which has been present from the start but, as far as Plotinus is concerned, to which we have not properly attended. For Plotinus, it is only then that, having learned to see everything present at once instead of relegating reality and our happiness to another, distant world, we shall live fully under and by the whole of reality, thereby achieve a metaphysical wisdom of this world— and avoid going hungry, as well.(54)

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(1) See Parm. 133B-135A for Plato's own admission that this may be the case. Of course, some might say that any metaphysics is similarily useless, but we shall have to discuss that possibility some other time.

(2) E.g., the relation of soul to the visible all; the relation of the truly existent all to the dependent all; the location of that which is incorporeal; the multiplicity of that which is incorporeal. Throughout the two treatises, Plotinus moves freely back and forth between consideration of the relation between, on the one hand, either soul, being, and the One, and, on the other, what each cares for. Such a move is to be expected because the philosophical problem at stake in each case is the relation of 'higher' to 'lower': each case manifests the same basic problem; hence one can draw from the relation of, say, soul to body to understand being's relation to body, etc.

(3) Enn. VI.4.5.1-2, 11-22; cf. VI.5.10. All quotations are taken from the text and translation from Armstrong in the Loeb series: Plotinus - Enneads, vols. I-VII (Harvard University Press, 1967).

(4) See, e.g., Enn. VI.3.9, VI.4.2, VI.7.4, 11, 31.

(5) Enn. V.9.5.17-20, 43-49

(6) See Enn. VI.7.32.30-32: "it would be the generator of beauty. Therefore the productive power of all is the flower of beauty, a beauty which makes beauty" e)pasmion de\ o/)n to\ gennw=n a/)n ei)/h to\ ka/lloj. Du/namij ou/n) panto\j kalou= a)/nqoj e)sti,/ ka/lloj kallopoi/on). Cf. VI.6.18.

(7) "Boiling with life," in fact: see VI.5.12 (oi/=on u(perze/ousan zwv=) and VI.7.12 (oi/=on zeo/ntwn) For more on 'to be is to be form', see V.3.15, V.8.1-2; also VI.5.3., VI.2.11, VI.7.21, VI.6.13-14. Cf. Plato, e.g., Rep. 479a-c, 507aff., 595aff., Phdo. 95e-107d, Parm. 135b-c, Soph. 246b, 248b, Phdrs. 247e, Crat. 386d-e.

(8) Enn. VI.5.11.22-30; cf. VI.7.5

(9) Enn. VI.4.11; VI.5.7, 11; cf. V.8.9, VI.7.31

(10) Enn. VI.4.2, 7, 16; VI.5.6-8

(11) See Enn. V.9.5.35-42; see also below.

(12) Enn. VI.4.16, VI.5.6, VI.7.11

(13) Enn. VI.4.11-13, VI.2.12

(14) Enn. VI.4.10.8-16

(15) Enn. VI.4.9.36-43; cf. V.8.9

(16) See Enn. VI.3.2, VI.5.2

(17) The difficulty with the mirror-metaphor is that the mirror-surface must be accounted for; hence, given an object to be reflected (i.e., Being) and a reflection of that object (i.e., the sensible), one still must explain the ontological contribution of the surface which is doing the reflecting. For Plotinus, the answer is matter: see VI.5.8 and 11, V.8.7, I.6.3, II.9.3, III.5.9.

(18) Enn. VI.4.10, VI.5.8

(19) Enn. VI.4.7, 9-10.

(20) For more on the shadow-nature of sensibles, see VI.2.7, I.1.12, VI.7.5.

(21) Perhaps a clearer way of putting the matter is that if one adds, for example, ten instances of 'tree' to the form itself, one does not get more than one thing; or, as Plotinus puts it in VI.3.9 (see also ch. 15), matter plus the form is not greater than the form itself. Cf. Cornelia DeVogel's commentary:

[A]ccording to this theory creation occurs by degrees. For Plotinus "God" is the creator in the absolute sense, since from him proceeds the Nous which is everything. ... The reference is also to concrete things, for these have their prototype in the noeta and could not develop at all if the intelligible prime image did not exist. For, according to Plotinus, nothing really new ever 'becomes'. The perceptible world never adds to reality anything that did not exist before. ("The Monism of Plotinus", in Philosophia I: Studies in Greek Philosophy [Assen: Van Gorcum & Co., 1969] 405-406.)

(22) One must be wary of applying this term to Plotinian thought, particularly when Plotinus makes the strongest identification possible between thought and being (see, e.g., V.9.5).

(23) Enn. VI.4.8.21-25: h)= me/geqoj au/= e(/cei pa/lin. O(/tan ou)=n e)n polloi=j le/gvj, ou)k au)to/ polla\ geno/menon le/geij, a)lla\ tw=n pollw=n to\ pa/qoj peria/pteij t%= e(ni\ e)kei/n% e)n polloi=j au)to\ a(/ma o(rw=n.

(24) Enn. VI.4.8.27-28: e)kei=no me\n au(tou= ei)=nai kai\ au)to\ ei)=nai.

(25) Enn. VI.7.7.17ff.

(26) Enn. VI.6.18.23-28, 31-39

(27) The point is made forcefully and effectively in Plato's Theaetetus, though with a slightly different emphasis: the five senses do communicate certain impressions of a thing, argues Socrates, but they do not yield knowledge, for only the mind grasps unity, existence, form: see 142a-186e (esp. 151e-162a, 175c-177c, 181c-186e).

(28) See the contrast of sensible and intelligible in VI.7.9-12.

(29) See Enn. VI.5.11-12.

(30) Enn. VI.5.8.4-8, 15-21

(31) Enn. VI.5.3.1-6; cf. VI.4.3, 4, 12; V.5.6; VI.6.7; VI.5.5; see also A.C. Loyd's "Non-Propositional Thought in Plotinus" (Phronesis 31, 3 [1986], 258-265), where Intellect's all-present unity is described as follows:

The contents of Intellect...are like a single breath or warmth, or rather it is as though there were only one quality, which possessed all qualities— all tastes, all colours [sic] and the rest. This is how it seems to us. For it must be indescribable...(263-264)

(32) See Enn. V.8.9 and V.5.6-7.

(33) Enn. VI.4.14.21-22 (ou/)de ga\r ou)de\ nu=n a)potetmh/meqa) and VI.4.2.47 (a)na/gkh o(/lon parei=nai, ei)/per pa/resti); cf. VI.4.9.10ff., 37-45, VI.4.3, VI.4.5.

(34) Enn. VI.5.10.41 (e)n t%= au)t%= a)/ra o)/ntej); VI.5.7.6 (a)lla/ h(mei=j e)n e)kei/noij o)/ntej); VI.5.1.25 (ou)k a)pe/sthmen a)/ra tou= o)/ntoj, a)ll )e)sme\n e)n au)t%=); VI.5.12.28 (au)to\ ga\r pa/restin); cf. VI.5.8, VI.5.11, and VI.7.5.28-30.

(35) In Enn. VI.9, for example: "for that One is not absent from any" – ou) ga\r dh\ a)/pestin ou)deno\j e)kei=no(VI.9.4.24-25); "For that One, therefore, since it has no otherness is always present" – e)kei=no me\n ou)=n mh\ e)/xon e(tero/thta a)ei\ pa/restin (VI.9.8.34-35); "for we are not cut off from him nor separate" – ou) ga\r a)potetmh/meqa ou)de\ xwri/j e)smen (VI.9.9.7-8).

(36) Enn. VI.7.42.1-12; cf. V.5.3 (entire)

(37) There is an additional line of argument which supports this view: soul, says Plotinus, enters into bodies not by changing place, even though there is a departure (from Being) of some sort: See VI.4.12, 16, 9; cf. III.9.3., V.9.13.

(38) Among the host of references to matter in the Enneads, see II.5.2, 4-5; I.8.4-5ff., II.9.3, III.5.6, 9, VI.7.28, II.3.17, III.4.1, IV.8.6, V.7.2.

(39) See Enn. III.3.3.

(40) See Enn. VI.5.12.

(41) See Enn. V.8.7.

(42) The problem is a classical one: Plotinus follows Plato; Augustine, perhaps following Plotinus, speaks of creatures as mixtures of being and not-being (see Conf. VII.xi, xv; XI.ix, XII.xv); see Philo's De Cherubim XXII.71, XXXII.113-115, VI.19-20, XV.51; and Migratione de Abrahami XIX.106; and also Aquinas: "the creature is darkness insofar as it is out of nothing, but insofar as it is from God, it participates in some likeness of Him."(De Veritate 18.2.ad 5); one might also compare various Hebraic psalms, and the thought of Pseudo-Dionysius, William Blake, Kierkegaard...

(43) See Enn. V.9.13, VI.5.10, V.1.4.

(44) See Enn. VI.4.9.12. He translates more strictly in VI.4.2.28: "the perceptible" for to\ ai)sqhto\n.

(45) As, for instance, when Armstrong translates e)pi\ pa=n tou/tou as "of this perceptible All": see VI.4.2.32.

(46) So Porphyry informs us— see Life 8— and as one (all too readily) finds in the Greek of the Enneads.

(47) One easily finds passages in the Enneads which seem to advocate flight away from all reality, i.e., a seeming rejection of being in a flight beyond it: e.g., VI.4.14, V.5.4, VI.9.7, VI.7.16, 31. But one finds passages which indicate as strongly that we have never departed from the core of reality: VI.9.8-9, IV.3.9, V.1.7, V.5.12.

(48) Enn. II.9.7.33ff.

(49) Using another image, the solution is to catch the eye of beauty, not to look away from beauty's face: see Enn. VI.7.22.25-27. In either case, what does this metaphorical explanation mean more precisely? Plotinus gives a variety of answers, at root, he seems to propose a moral, intellectual, and even mystical program of reordering or repatterning one's life.

(50) Enn. VI.9.8.34-45; see also VI.9.7-8. Note that Plotinus makes reference here to "otherness" and "body". It is undeniable that in his perspective troubles arise the more one is wrongly involved with 'body'; he does in fact reserve the strongest derision for matter, as well. Still, body as such is not evil, but our concern for body is. For discussion, see Enneads I.8.4-5; II.1.4, 9.8, 3.12, 17; III.4.1; IV.8.6.

(51) Enn. VI.5.12.28-29; see also VI.5.7.15-17, 9-15

(52) Enn. I.6.8.17-27. The quotation is a reference to Iliad 2.140.

(53) Enn. I.6.8.6-16; cf. I.6.6.1-12. Pierre Hadot hits the nail squarely on the head in his summary:

It is not out of hatred and disgust for the body that we must detach ourselves from sensible things. The latter are not, in themselves, evil. It is the concern they cause us which prevents us from paying attention to the spiritual life which we unconsciously live. Plotinus wants us to have, here and now, the same attitude towards concerns about earthly things, and even the memory of these things, as the soul will have after death....(Plotinus or The Simplicity of Vision [University of Chicago Press, 1993] 31)

(54) See also Enn. V.5.11.11-17, where Plotinus refers to those who eat the food-offerings outside the temple during religious festivals without going inside to worship: these, he says, eat, but remain hungry— an image of the disordering which follows from a misfocused and/or inattentive perspective on reality. Cf. V.5.3.1-17.

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