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The Enneads of Plotinus


First ennead:

  1. Beauty
  2. On the primal good and secondary forms of good [otherwise, on happiness]
  3. On the nature and source of evil
  4. The reasoned dismissal

Sixth tractate: Beauty


Beauty addresses itself chiefly to sight; but there is a beauty for the hearing too, as in certain combinations of words and in all kinds of music, for melodies and cadences are beautiful; and minds that lift themselves above the realm of sense to a higher order are aware of beauty in the conduct of life, in actions, in character, in the pursuits of the intellect; and there is the beauty of the virtues. What loftier beauty there may be, yet, our argument will bring to light.

What, then, is it that gives comeliness to material forms and draws the ear to the sweetness perceived in sounds, and what is the secret of the beauty there is in all that derives from soul?

Is there some One principle from which all take their grace, or is there a beauty peculiar to the embodied and another for the bodiless? finally, one or many, what would such a principle be?

Consider that some things, material shapes for instance, are gracious not by anything inherent but by something communicated, while others are lovely of themselves, as, for example, virtue.

The same bodies appear sometimes beautiful, sometimes not; so that there is a good deal between being body and being beautiful.

What, then, is this something that shows itself in certain material forms? This is the natural beginning of our enquiry.

What is it that attracts the eyes of those to whom a beautiful object is presented, and calls them, lures them, towards it, and fills them with joy at the sight? If we possess ourselves of this, we have at once a standpoint for the wider survey.

Almost everyone declares that the symmetry of parts towards each other and towards a whole, with, besides, a certain charm of colour, constitutes the beauty recognized by the eye, that in visible things, as indeed in all else, universally, the beautiful thing is essentially symmetrical, patterned.

But think what this means.

Only a compound can be beautiful, never anything devoid of parts; and only a whole; the several parts will have beauty, not in themselves, but only as working together to give a comely total. Yet beauty in an aggregate demands beauty in details; it cannot be constructed out of ugliness; its law must run throughout.

All the loveliness of colour and even the light of the sun, being devoid of parts and so not beautiful by symmetry, must be ruled out of the realm of beauty. And how comes gold to be a beautiful thing? And lightning by night, and the stars, why are these so fair?

In sounds also the simple must be proscribed, though often in a whole noble composition each several tone is delicious in itself.

Again since the one face, constant in symmetry, appears sometimes fair and sometimes not, can we doubt that beauty is something more than symmetry, that symmetry itself owes its beauty to a remoter principle?

Turn to what is attractive in methods of life or in the expression of thought; are we to call in symmetry here? What symmetry is to be found in noble conduct, or excellent laws, in any form of mental pursuit?

What symmetry can there be in points of abstract thought?

The symmetry of being accordant with each other? But there may be accordance or entire identity where there is nothing but ugliness: The proposition that honesty is merely a generous artlessness chimes in the most perfect harmony with the proposition that morality means weakness of will; the accordance is complete.

Then again, all the virtues are a beauty of the soul, a beauty authentic beyond any of these others; but how does symmetry enter here? The soul, it is true, is not a simple unity, but still its virtue cannot have the symmetry of size or of number: What standard of measurement could preside over the compromise or the coalescence of the soul's faculties or purposes?

Finally, how by this theory would there be beauty in the intellectual-principle, essentially the solitary?


Let us, then, go back to the source, and indicate at once the principle that bestows beauty on material things.

Undoubtedly this principle exists; it is something that is perceived at the first glance, something which the soul names as from an ancient knowledge and, recognising, welcomes it, enters into unison with it.

But let the soul fall in with the ugly and at once it shrinks within itself, denies the thing, turns away from it, not accordant, resenting it.

Our interpretation is that the soul—by the very truth of its nature, by its affiliation to the noblest existents in the hierarchy of being—when it sees anything of that kin, or any trace of that kinship, thrills with an immediate delight, takes its own to itself, and thus stirs anew to the sense of its nature and of all its affinity.

But, is there any such likeness between the loveliness of this world and the splendours in the supreme? Such a likeness in the particulars would make the two orders alike: But what is there in common between beauty here and beauty there?

We hold that all the loveliness of this world comes by communion in ideal-form.

All shapelessness whose kind admits of pattern and form, as long as it remains outside of reason and idea, is ugly by that very isolation from the divine-thought. And this is the absolute ugly: An ugly thing is something that has not been entirely mastered by pattern, that is by reason, the matter not yielding at all points and in all respects to ideal-form.

But where the ideal-form has entered, it has grouped and coordinated what from a diversity of parts was to become a unity: It has rallied confusion into co-operation: It has made the sum one harmonious coherence: For the idea is a unity and what it moulds must come to unity as far as multiplicity may.

And on what has thus been compacted to unity, beauty enthrones itself, giving itself to the parts as to the sum: When it lights on some natural unity, a thing of like parts, then it gives itself to that whole. Thus, for an illustration, there is the beauty, conferred by craftsmanship, of all a house with all its parts, and the beauty which some natural quality may give to a single stone.

This, then, is how the material thing becomes beautiful—by communicating in the thought that flows from the divine.


And the soul includes a faculty peculiarly addressed to beauty—one incomparably sure in the appreciation of its own, never in doubt whenever any lovely thing presents itself for judgement.

Or perhaps the soul itself acts immediately, affirming the beautiful where it finds something accordant with the ideal-form within itself, using this idea as a canon of accuracy in its decision.

But what accordance is there between the material and that which antedates all matter?

On what principle does the architect, when he finds the house standing before him correspondent with his inner ideal of a house, pronounce it beautiful? Is it not that the house before him, the stones apart, is the inner idea stamped on the mass of exterior matter, the indivisible exhibited in diversity?

So with the perceptive faculty: Discerning in certain objects the ideal-form which has bound and controlled shapeless matter, opposed in nature to idea, seeing further stamped on the common shapes some shape excellent above the common, it gathers into unity what still remains fragmentary, catches it up and carries it within, no longer a thing of parts, and presents it to the ideal- principle as something concordant and congenial, a natural friend: The joy here is like that of a good man who discerns in a youth the early signs of a virtue consonant with the achieved perfection within his own soul.

The beauty of colour is also the outcome of a unification: It derives from shape, from the conquest of the darkness inherent in matter by the pouring-in of light, the unembodied, which is a rational- principle and an ideal-form.

Hence it is that fire itself is splendid beyond all material bodies, holding the rank of ideal-principle to the other elements, making ever upwards, the subtlest and sprightliest of all bodies, as very near to the unembodied; itself alone admitting no other, all the others penetrated by it: For they take warmth but this is never cold; it has colour primally; they receive the form of colour from it: Hence the splendour of its light, the splendour that belongs to the idea. And all that has resisted and is but uncertainly held by its light remains outside of beauty, as not having absorbed the plenitude of the form of colour.

And harmonies unheard in sound create the harmonies we hear, and wake the soul to the consciousness of beauty, showing it the one essence in another kind: For the measures of our sensible music are not arbitrary but are determined by the principle whose labour is to dominate matter and bring pattern into being.

Thus far of the beauties of the realm of sense, images and shadow-pictures, fugitives that have entered into matter—to adorn, and to ravish, where they are seen.


But there are earlier and loftier beauties than these. In the sense-bound life we are no longer granted to know them, but the soul, taking no help from the organs, sees and proclaims them. To the vision of these we must mount, leaving sense to its own low place.

As it is not for those to speak of the graceful forms of the material world who have never seen them or known their grace—men born blind, let us suppose—in the same way those must be silent on the beauty of noble conduct and of learning and all that order who have never cared for such things, nor may those tell of the splendour of virtue who have never known the face of justice and of moral-wisdom beautiful beyond the beauty of evening and of dawn.

Such vision is for those only who see with the soul's sight—and at the vision, they will rejoice, and awe will fall on them and a trouble deeper than all the rest could ever stir, for now they are moving in the realm of truth.

This is the spirit that beauty must ever induce, wonderment and a delicious trouble, longing and love and a trembling that is all delight. For the unseen all this may be felt as for the seen; and this the souls feel for it, every soul in some degree, but those the more deeply that are the more truly apt to this higher love—just as all take delight in the beauty of the body but all are not stung as sharply, and those only that feel the keener wound are known as lovers.


These lovers, then, lovers of the beauty outside of sense, must be made to declare themselves.

What do you feel in presence of the grace you discern in actions, in manners, in sound morality, in all the works and fruits of virtue, in the beauty of souls? When you see that you yourselves are beautiful within, what do you feel? What is this dionysiac exultation that thrills through your being, this straining upwards of all your soul, this longing to break away from the body and live sunken within the veritable self?

These are no other than the emotions of souls under the spell of love.

But what is it that awakens all this passion? No shape, no colour, no grandeur of mass: All is for a soul, something whose beauty rests on no colour, for the moral wisdom the soul enshrines and all the other hueless splendour of the virtues. It is that you find in yourself, or admire in another, loftiness of spirit; righteousness of life; disciplined purity; courage of the majestic face; gravity; modesty that goes fearless and tranquil and passionless; and, shining down on all, the light of god-like intellection.

All these noble qualities are to be reverenced and loved, no doubt, but what entitles them to be called beautiful?

They exist: They manifest themselves to us: Anyone that sees them must admit that they have reality of being; and is not real-being, really beautiful?

But we have not yet shown by what property in them they have wrought the soul to loveliness: What is this grace, this splendour as of light, resting on all the virtues?

Let us take the contrary, the ugliness of the soul, and set that against its beauty: To understand, at once, what this ugliness is and how it comes to appear in the soul will certainly open our way before us.

Let us then suppose an ugly soul, dissolute, unrighteous: Teeming with all the lusts; torn by internal discord; beset by the fears of its cowardice and the envies of its pettiness; thinking, in the little thought it has, only of the perish able and the base; perverse in all its the friend of unclean pleasures; living the life of abandonment to bodily sensation and delighting in its deformity.

What must we think but that all this shame is something that has gathered about the soul, some foreign bane outraging it, soiling it, so that, encumbered with all manner of turpitude, it has no longer a clean activity or a clean sensation, but commands only a life smouldering dully under the crust of evil; that, sunk in manifold death, it no longer sees what a soul should see, may no longer rest in its own being, dragged ever as it is towards the outer, the lower, the dark?

An unclean thing, I dare to say; flickering hither and thither at the call of objects of sense, deeply infected with the taint of body, occupied always in matter, and absorbing matter into itself; in its commerce with the ignoble it has trafficked away for an alien nature its own essential idea.

If a man has been immersed in filth or daubed with mud his native comeliness disappears and all that is seen is the foul stuff besmearing him: His ugly condition is due to alien matter that has encrusted him, and if he is to win back his grace it must be his business to scour and purify himself and make himself what he was.

So, we may justly say, a soul becomes ugly—by something foisted on it, by sinking itself into the alien, by a fall, a descent into body, into matter. The dishonour of the soul is in its ceasing to be clean and apart. Gold is degraded when it is mixed with earthy particles; if these be worked out, the gold is left and is beautiful, isolated from all that is foreign, gold with gold alone. And so the soul; let it be but cleared of the desires that come by its too intimate converse with the body, emancipated from all the passions, purged of all that embodiment has thrust on it, withdrawn, a solitary, to itself again—in that moment the ugliness that came only from the alien is stripped away.


For, as the ancient teaching was, moral-discipline and courage and every virtue, not even excepting wisdom itself, all is purification.

Hence the mysteries with good reason adumbrate the immersion of the unpurified in filth, even in the nether-World, since the unclean loves filth for its very filthiness, and swine foul of body find their joy in foulness.

What else is sophrosyne, rightly so-called, but to take no part in the pleasures of the body, to break away from them as unclean and unworthy of the clean? So too, courage is but being fearless of the death which is but the parting of the soul from the body, an event which no one can dread whose delight is to be his unmingled self. And magnanimity is but disregard for the lure of things here. And wisdom is but the act of the intellectual- principle withdrawn from the lower places and leading the soul to the above.

The soul thus cleansed is all idea and reason, wholly free of body, intellective, entirely of that divine order from which the wellspring of beauty rises and all the race of beauty.

Hence the soul heightened to the intellectual-principle is beautiful to all its power. For intellection and all that proceeds from intellection are the soul's beauty, a graciousness native to it and not foreign, for only with these is it truly soul. And it is just to say that in the soul's becoming a good and beautiful thing is its becoming like to God, for from the divine comes all the beauty and all the good in beings.

We may even say that beauty is the authentic-existents and ugliness is the principle contrary to existence: And the ugly is also the primal evil; therefore its contrary is at once good and beautiful, or is good and beauty: And hence the one method will discover to us the beauty-good and the ugliness-evil.

And beauty, this beauty which is also the good, must be posed as the first: Directly deriving from this first is the intellectual- principle which is pre-eminently the manifestation of beauty; through the intellectual-principle soul is beautiful. The beauty in things of a lower order-actions and pursuits for instance—comes by operation of the shaping soul which is also the author of the beauty found in the world of sense. For the soul, a divine thing, a fragment as it were of the primal beauty, makes beautiful to the fulness of their capacity all things whatever that it grasps and moulds.


Therefore we must ascend again towards the good, the desired of every soul. Anyone that has seen this, knows what I intend when I say that it is beautiful. Even the desire of it is to be desired as a good. To attain it is for those that will take the upward path, who will set all their forces towards it, who will divest themselves of all that we have put on in our descent:—so, 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.

And one that shall know this vision—with what passion of love shall he not be seized, with what pang of desire, what longing to be molten into one with this, what wondering delight! If he that has never seen this being must hunger for it as for all his welfare, he that has known must love and reverence it as the very beauty; he will be flooded with awe and gladness, stricken by a salutary terror; he loves with a veritable love, with sharp desire; all other loves than this he must despise, and disdain all that once seemed fair.

This, indeed, is the mood even of those who, having witnessed the manifestation of Gods or supernals, can never again feel the old delight in the comeliness of material forms: What then are we to think of one that contemplates absolute beauty in its essential integrity, no accumulation of flesh and matter, no dweller on earth or in the heavens—so perfect its purity—far above all such things in that they are non- essential, composite, not primal but descending from this?

Beholding this being—the choragos of all existence, the self-intent that ever gives forth and never takes—resting, rapt, in the vision and possession of so lofty a loveliness, growing to its likeness, what beauty can the soul yet lack? for this, the beauty supreme, the absolute, and the primal, fashions its lovers to beauty and makes them also worthy of love.

And for this, the sternest and the uttermost combat is set before the souls; all our labour is for this, lest we be left without part in this noblest vision, which to attain is to be blessed in the blissful sight, which to fail of is to fail utterly.

For not he that has failed of the joy that is in colour or in visible forms, not he that has failed of power or of honours or of kingdom has failed, but only he that has failed of only this, for Whose winning he should renounce kingdoms and command over earth and ocean and sky, if only, spurning the world of sense from beneath his feet, and straining to this, he may see.


But what must we do? How lies the path? How come to vision of the inaccessible beauty, dwelling as if in consecrated precincts, apart from the common ways where all may see, even the profane?

He that has the strength, let him arise and withdraw into himself, foregoing all that is known by the eyes, turning away for ever from the material beauty that once made his joy. When he perceives those shapes of grace that show in body, let him not pursue: He must know them for copies, vestiges, shadows, and hasten away towards that they tell of. For if anyone follow what is like a beautiful shape playing over water—is there not a myth telling in symbol of such a dupe, how he sank into the depths of the current and was swept away to nothingness? So too, one that is held by material beauty and will not break free shall be precipitated, not in body but in soul, down to the dark depths loathed of the intellective-being, where, blind even in the lower-World, he shall have commerce only with shadows, there as here.

"Let us flee then to the beloved fatherland": This is the soundest counsel. But what is this flight? How are we to gain the open sea? for Odysseus is surely a parable to us when he commands the flight from the sorceries of circe or calypso—not content to linger for all the pleasure offered to his eyes and all the delight of sense filling his days.

The fatherland to us is there whence we have come, and there is the father.

What then is our course, what the manner of our flight? This is not a journey for the feet; the feet bring us only from land to land; nor need you think of coach or ship to carry you away; all this order of things you must set aside and refuse to see: You must close the eyes and call instead on another vision which is to be waked within you, a vision, the birth-right of all, which few turn to use.


And this inner vision, what is its operation?

Newly awakened it is all too feeble to bear the ultimate splendour. Therefore the soul must be trained—to the habit of remarking, first, all noble pursuits, then the works of beauty produced not by the labour of the arts but by the virtue of men known for their goodness: Lastly, you must search the souls of those that have shaped these beautiful forms.

But how are you to see into a virtuous soul and know its loveliness?

Withdraw into yourself and look. And if you do not find yourself beautiful yet, act as does the creator of a statue that is to be made beautiful: He cuts away here, he smoothes there, he makes this line lighter, this other purer, until a lovely face has grown on his work. So do you also: Cut away all that is excessive, straighten all that is crooked, bring light to all that is overcast, labour to make all one glow of beauty and never cease chiselling your statue, until there shall shine out on you from it the godlike splendour of virtue, until you shall see the perfect goodness surely established in the stainless shrine.

When you know that you have become this perfect work, when you are self-gathered in the purity of your being, nothing now remaining that can shatter that inner unity, nothing from without clinging to the authentic man, when you find yourself wholly true to your essential nature, wholly that only veritable light which is not measured by space, not narrowed to any circumscribed form nor again diffused as a thing void of term, but ever unmeasurable as something greater than all measure and more than all quantity—when you perceive that you have grown to this, you are now become very vision: Now call up all your confidence, strike forward yet a step—you need a guide no longer—strain, and see.

This is the only eye that sees the mighty beauty. If the eye that adventures the vision be dimmed by vice, impure, or weak, and unable in its cowardly blenching to see the uttermost brightness, then it sees nothing even though another point to what lies plain to sight before it. To any vision must be brought an eye adapted to what is to be seen, and having some likeness to it. Never did eye see the sun unless it had first become sunlike, and never can the soul have vision of the first beauty unless itself be beautiful.

Therefore, first let each become godlike and each beautiful who cares to see god and beauty. So, mounting, the soul will come first to the intellectual-principle and survey all the beautiful ideas in the supreme and will avow that this is beauty, that the ideas are beauty. For by their efficacy comes all beauty else, but the offspring and essence of the intellectual-being. What is beyond the intellectual-principle we affirm to be the nature of good radiating beauty before it. So that, treating the intellectual- cosmos as one, the first is the beautiful: If we make distinction there, the realm of ideas constitutes the beauty of the intellectual sphere; and the good, which lies beyond, is the fountain at once and principle of beauty: The primal good and the primal beauty have the one dwelling-place and, thus, always, beauty's seat is there.

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Seventh tractate: On the primal good and secondary forms of good [otherwise, "On happiness"]


We can scarcely conceive that for any entity the good can be other than the natural act expressing its life-force, or in the case of an entity made up of parts the act, appropriate, natural and complete, expressive of that in it which is best.

For the soul, then, the good is its own natural act.

But the soul itself is natively a "best"; if, further, its act be directed towards the best, the achievement is not merely the "soul's good" but "the good" without qualification.

Now, given an existent which—as being itself the best of existences and even transcending the existences—directs its act towards no other, but is the object to which the act of all else is directed, it is clear that this must be at once the good and the means through which all else may participate in good.

This absolute good other entities may possess in two ways—by becoming like to it and by directing the act of their being towards it.

Now, if all aspiration and act whatever are directed towards the good, it follows that the essential-good neither need nor can look outside itself or aspire to anything other than itself: It can but remain unmoved, as being, in the constitution of things, the wellspring and firstcause of all act: Whatever in other entities is of the nature of good cannot be due to any act of the essential-good on them; it is for them on the contrary to act towards their source and cause. The good must, then, be the good not by any act, not even by virtue of its intellection, but by its very rest within itself.

Existing beyond and above being, it must be beyond and above the intellectual-principle and all intellection.

For, again, that only can be named the good to which all is bound and itself to none: For only thus is it veritably the object of all aspiration. It must be unmoved, while all circles around it, as a circumference around a centre from which all the radii proceed. Another example would be the sun, central to the light which streams from it and is yet linked to it, or at least is always about it, irremoveably; try all you will to separate the light from the sun, or the sun from its light, for ever the light is in the sun.


But the universe outside; how is it aligned towards the good?

The soulless by direction toward soul: Soul towards the good itself, through the intellectual-principle.

Everything has something of the good, by virtue of possessing a certain degree of unity and a certain degree of existence and by participation in ideal-form: To the extent of the unity, being, and form which are present, there is a sharing in an image, for the unity and existence in which there is participation are no more than images of the ideal-form.

With soul it is different; the first-soul, that which follows on the intellectual-principle, possesses a life nearer to the verity and through that principle is of the nature of good; it will actually possess the good if it orientate itself towards the intellectual- principle, since this follows immediately on the good.

In sum, then, life is the good to the living, and the intellectual-principle to what is intellective; so that where there is life with intellection there is a double contact with the good.


But if life is a good, is there good for all that lives?

No: In the vile, life limps: It is like the eye to the dim- sighted; it fails of its task.

But if the mingled strand of life is to us, though entwined with evil, still in the total a good, must not death be an evil?

Evil to What? There must be a subject for the evil: But if the possible subject is no longer among beings, or, still among beings, is devoid of life... Why, a stone is not more immune.

If, on the contrary, after death life and soul continue, then death will be no evil but a good; soul, disembodied, is the freer to ply its own act.

If it be taken into the all-soul—what evil can reach it there? And as the gods are possessed of good and untouched by evil—so, certainly is the soul that has preserved its essential character. And if it should lose its purity, the evil it experiences is not in its death but in its life. Suppose it to be under punishment in the lower world, even there the evil thing is its life and not its death; the misfortune is still life, a life of a definite character.

Life is a partnership of a soul and body; death is the dissolution; in either life or death, then, the soul will feel itself at home.

But, again, if life is good, how can death be anything but evil?

Remember that the good of life, where it has any good at all, is not due to anything in the partnership but to the repelling of evil by virtue; death, then, must be the greater good.

In a word, life in the body is of itself an evil but the soul enters its good through virtue, not living the life of the couplement but holding itself apart, even here.

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Eighth tractate: On the nature and source of evil



Those enquiring whence evil enters into beings, or rather into a certain order of beings, would be making the best beginning if they established, first of all, what precisely evil is, what constitutes its nature. At once we should know whence it comes, where it has its native seat and where it is present merely as an accident; and there would be no further question as to whether it has authentic- existence.

But a difficulty arises. By what faculty in us could we possibly know evil?

All knowing comes by likeness. The intellectual-principle and the soul, being ideal-forms, would know ideal-forms and would have a natural tendency towards them; but who could imagine evil to be an ideal-form, seeing that it manifests itself as the very absence of good?

If the solution is that the one act of knowing covers contraries, and that as evil is the contrary to good the one act would grasp good and evil together, then to know evil there must be first a clear perception and understanding of good, since the nobler existences precede the baser and are ideal-forms while the less good hold no such standing, are nearer to non- being.

No doubt there is a question in what precise way good is contrary to evil—whether it is as first-principle to last of things or as ideal-form to utter lack: But this subject we postpone.


For the moment let us define the nature of the good as far as the immediate purpose demands.

The good is that on which all else depends, towards which all existences aspire as to their source and their need, while itself is without need, sufficient to itself, aspiring to no other, the measure and term of all, giving out from itself the intellectual- principle and existence and soul and life and all intellective- act.

All until the good is reached is beautiful; the good is beyond- beautiful, beyond the highest, holding kingly state in the intellectual-cosmos, that sphere constituted by a principle wholly unlike what is known as intelligence in us. Our intelligence is nourished on the propositions of logic, is skilled in following discussions, works by reasonings, examines links of demonstration, and comes to know the world of being also by the steps of logical process, having no prior grasp of reality but remaining empty, all intelligence though it be, until it has put itself to school.

The intellectual-principle we are discussing is not of such a kind: It possesses all: It is all: It is present to all by its self- presence: It has all by other means than having, for what it possesses is still itself, nor does any particular of all within it stand apart; for every such particular is the whole and in all respects all, while yet not confused in the mass but still distinct, apart to the extent that any participant in the intellectual- principle participates not in the entire as one thing but in whatever lies within its own reach.

And the first act is the act of the good stationary within itself, and the first existence is the self-contained existence of the good; but there is also an act on it, that of the intellectual-principle which, as it were, lives about it.

And the soul, outside, circles around the intellectual- principle, and by gazing on it, seeing into the depths of it, through it sees God.

Such is the untroubled, the blissful, life of divine beings, and evil has no place in it; if this were all, there would be no evil but good only, the first, the second and the third good. All, thus far, is with the king of all, unfailing cause of good and beauty and controller of all; and what is good in the second degree depends on the second- principle and tertiary good on the third.


If such be the nature of beings and of that which transcends all the realm of being, evil cannot have place among beings or in the beyond-being; these are good.

There remains, only, if evil exist at all, that it be situate in the realm of non-being, that it be some mode, as it were, of the non-being, that it have its seat in something in touch with non- being or to a certain degree communicate in non- being.

By this non-being, of course, we are not to understand something that simply does not exist, but only something of an utterly different order from authentic-being: There is no question here of movement or position with regard to being; the non-being we are thinking of is, rather, an image of being or perhaps something still further removed than even an image.

Now this [the required faint image of being] might be the sensible universe with all the impressions it engenders, or it might be something of even later derivation, accidental to the realm of sense, or again, it might be the source of the sense- world or something of the same order entering into it to complete it.

Some conception of it would be reached by thinking of measurelessness as opposed to measure, of the unbounded against bound, the unshaped against a principle of shape, the ever-needy against the self-sufficing: Think of the ever- undefined, the never at rest, the all-accepting but never sated, utter dearth; and make all this character not mere accident in it but its equivalent for essential-being, so that, whatever fragment of it be taken, that part is all lawless void, while whatever participates in it and resembles it becomes evil, though not of course to the point of being, as itself is, evil- absolute.

In what substantial-form [hypostasis] then is all this to be found—not as accident but as the very substance itself?

For if evil can enter into other things, it must have in a certain sense a prior existence, even though it may not be an essence. As there is good, the absolute, as well as good, the quality, so, together with the derived evil entering into something not itself, there must be the absolute evil.

But how? can there be unmeasure apart from an unmeasured object?

Does not measure exist apart from unmeasured things? Precisely as there is measure apart from anything measured, so there is unmeasure apart from the unmeasured. If unmeasure could not exist independently, it must exist either in an unmeasured object or in something measured; but the unmeasured could not need unmeasure and the measured could not contain it.

There must, then, be some undetermination-absolute, some absolute formlessness; all the qualities cited as characterizing the nature of evil must be summed under an absolute evil; and every evil thing outside of this must either contain this absolute by saturation or have taken the character of evil and become a cause of evil by consecration to this absolute.

What will this be?

That kind whose place is below all the patterns, forms, shapes, measurements and limits, that which has no trace of good by any title of its own, but [at best] takes order and grace from some principle outside itself, a mere image as regards absolute- being but the authentic essence of evil—in so far as evil can have authentic being. In such a kind, reason recognizes the primal evil, evil absolute.


The bodily kind, in that it partakes of matter is an evil thing. What form is in bodies is an untrue-form: They are without life: By their own natural disorderly movement they make away with each other; they are hindrances to the soul in its proper act; in their ceaseless flux they are always slipping away from being.

Soul, on the contrary, since not every soul is evil, is not an evil kind.

What, then, is the evil soul?

It is, we read, the soul that has entered into the service of that in which soul-evil is implanted by nature, in whose service the unreasoning phase of the soul accepts evil—unmeasure, excess and shortcoming, which bring forth licentiousness, cowardice and all other flaws of the soul, all the states, foreign to the true nature, which set up false judgements, so that the soul comes to name things good or evil not by their true value but by the mere test of like and dislike.

But what is the root of this evil state? How can it be brought under the causing principle indicated?

Firstly, such a soul is not apart from matter, is not purely itself. That is to say, it is touched with unmeasure, it is shut out from the forming-idea that orders and brings to measure, and this because it is merged into a body made of matter.

Then if the reasoning-faculty too has taken hurt, the soul's seeing is baulked by the passions and by the darkening that matter brings to it, by its decline into matter, by its very attention no longer to essence but to process—whose principle or source is, again, matter, the kind so evil as to saturate with its own pravity even that which is not in it but merely looks towards it.

For, wholly without part in good, the negation of good, unmingled lack, this matter-kind makes over to its own likeness whatever comes in touch with it.

The soul wrought to perfection, addressed towards the intellectual-principle, is steadfastly pure: It has turned away from matter; all that is undetermined, that is outside of measure, that is evil, it neither sees nor draws near; it endures in its purity, only, and wholly, determined by the intellectual-principle.

The soul that breaks away from this source of its reality to the non-perfect and non-primal is, as it were, a secondary, an image, to the loyal soul. By its falling-away—and to the extent of the fall—it is stripped of determination, becomes wholly indeterminate, sees darkness. Looking to what repels vision, as we look when we are said to see darkness, it has taken matter into itself.


But, it will be objected, if this seeing and frequenting of the darkness is due to the lack of good, the soul's evil has its source in that very lack; the darkness will be merely a secondary cause—and at once the principle of evil is removed from matter, is made anterior to matter.

No: Evil is not in any and every lack; it is in absolute lack. What falls in some degree short of the good is not evil; considered in its own kind it might even be perfect, but where there is utter dearth, there we have essential evil, void of all share in good; this is the case with matter.

Matter has not even existence whereby to have some part in good: Being is attributed to it by an accident of words: The truth would be that it has non-being.

Mere lack brings merely not-goodness: Evil demands the absolute lack—though, of course, any very considerable shortcoming makes the ultimate fall possible and is already, in itself, an evil.

In fine we are not to think of evil as some particular bad thing—injustice, for example, or any other ugly trait—but as a principle distinct from any of the particular forms in which, by the addition of certain elements, it becomes manifest. Thus there may be wickedness in the soul; the forms this general wickedness is to take will be determined by the environing matter, by the faculties of the soul that operate and by the nature of their operation, whether seeing, acting, or merely admitting impression.

But supposing things external to the soul are to be counted evil—sickness, poverty and so forth—how can they be referred to the principle we have described?

Well, sickness is excess or defect in the body, which as a material organism rebels against order and measure; ugliness is but matter not mastered by ideal-form; poverty consists in our need and lack of goods made necessary to us by our association with matter whose very nature is to be one long want.

If all this be true, we cannot be, ourselves, the source of evil, we are not evil in ourselves; evil was before we came to be; the evil which holds men down binds them against their will; and for those that have the strength—not found in all men, it is true—there is a deliverance from the evils that have found lodgement in the soul.

In a word since matter belongs only to the sensible world, vice in men is not the absolute evil; not all men are vicious; some overcome vice, some, the better sort, are never attacked by it; and those who master it win by means of that in them which is not material.


If this be so, how do we explain the teaching that evils can never pass away but "exist of necessity," that "while evil has no place in the divine order, it haunts mortal nature and this place for ever"?

Does this mean that heaven is clear of evil, ever moving its orderly way, spinning on the appointed path, no injustice there or any flaw, no wrong done by any power to any other but all true to the settled plan, while injustice and disorder prevail on earth, designated as "the mortal kind and this place"?

Not quite so: For the precept to "flee hence" does not refer to earth and earthly life. The flight we read of consists not in quitting earth but in living our earth-life "with justice and piety in the light of philosophy"; it is vice we are to flee, so that clearly to the writer evil is simply vice with the sequels of vice. And when the disputant in that dialogue says that, if men could be convinced of the doctrine advanced, there would be an end of evil, he is answered, "that can never be: Evil is of necessity, for there must be a contrary to good."

Still we may reasonably ask how can vice in man be a contrary to the good in the supernal: For vice is the contrary to virtue and virtue is not the good but merely the good thing by which matter is brought to order.

How can there any contrary to the absolute good, when the absolute has no quality?

Besides, is there any universal necessity that the existence of one of two contraries should entail the existence of the other? admit that the existence of one is often accompanied by the existence of the other—sickness and health, for example—yet there is no universal compulsion.

Perhaps, however, our author did not mean that this was universally true; he is speaking only of the good.

But then, if the good is an essence, and still more, if it is that which transcends all existence, how can it have any contrary?

That there is nothing contrary to essence is certain in the case of particular existences—established by practical proof—but not in the quite different case of the universal.

But of what nature would this contrary be, the contrary to universal existence and in general to the primals?

To essential existence would be opposed the non-existence; to the nature of good, some principle and source of evil. Both these will be sources, the one of what is good, the other of what is evil; and all within the domain of the one principle is opposed, as contrary, to the entire domain of the other, and this in a contrariety more violent than any existing between secondary things.

For these last are opposed as members of one species or of one genus, and, within that common ground, they participate in some common quality.

In the case of the primals or universals there is such complete separation that what is the exact negation of one group constitutes the very nature of the other; we have diametric contrariety if by contrariety we mean the extreme of remoteness.

Now to the content of the divine order, the fixed quality, the measuredness and so forth—there is opposed the content of the evil principle, its unfixedness, measurelessness and so forth: Total is opposed to total. The existence of the one genus is a falsity, primarily, essentially, a falseness: The other genus has essence-authentic: The opposition is of truth to lie; essence is opposed to essence.

Thus we see that it is not universally true that an essence can have no contrary.

In the case of fire and water we would admit contrariety if it were not for their common element, the matter, about which are gathered the warmth and dryness of one and the dampness and cold of the other: If there were only present what constitutes their distinct kinds, the common ground being absent, there would be, here also, essence contrary to essence.

In sum, things utterly sundered, having nothing in common, standing at the remotest poles, are opposites in nature: The contrariety does not depend on quality or on the existence of a distinct genus of beings, but on the utmost difference, clash in content, clash in effect.


But why does the existence of the principle of good necessarily comport the existence of a principle of evil? Is it because the all necessarily comports the existence of matter? Yes: For necessarily this all is made up of contraries: It could not exist if matter did not. The nature of this cosmos is, therefore, a blend; it is blended from the intellectual-principle and necessity: What comes into it from God is good; evil is from the ancient kind which, we read, is the underlying matter not yet brought to order by the ideal-form.

But, since the expression "this place" must be taken to mean the all, how explain the words "mortal nature"?

The answer is in the passage [in which the father of Gods addresses the divinities of the lower sphere], "since you possess only a derivative being, you are not immortals... But by my power you shall escape dissolution."

The escape, we read, is not a matter of place, but of acquiring virtue, of disengaging the self from the body; this is the escape from matter. Plato explains somewhere how a man frees himself and how he remains bound; and the phrase "to live among the gods" means to live among the intelligible-existents, for these are the immortals.

There is another consideration establishing the necessary existence of evil.

Given that the good is not the only existent thing, it is inevitable that, by the outgoing from it or, if the phrase be preferred, the continuous down-going or away-going from it, there should be produced a last, something after which nothing more can be produced: This will be evil.

As necessarily as there is something after the first, so necessarily there is a last: This last is matter, the thing which has no residue of good in it: Here is the necessity of evil.


But there will still be some to deny that it is through this matter that we ourselves become evil.

They will say that neither ignorance nor wicked desires arise in matter. Even if they admit that the unhappy condition within us is due to the pravity inherent in body, they will urge that still the blame lies not in the matter itself but with the form present in it—such form as heat, cold, bitterness, saltness and all other conditions perceptible to sense, or again such states as being full or void—not in the concrete signification but in the presence or absence of just such forms. In a word, they will argue, all particularity in desires and even in perverted judgements on things, can be referred to such causes, so that evil lies in this form much more than in the mere matter.

Yet, even with all this, they can be compelled to admit that matter is the evil.

For, the quality [form] that has entered into matter does not act as an entity apart from the matter, any more than axe-shape will cut apart from iron. Further, forms lodged in matter are not the same as they would be if they remained within themselves; they are reason- principles materialized, they are corrupted in the matter, they have absorbed its nature: Essential fire does not burn, nor do any of the essential entities effect, of themselves alone, the operation which, once they have entered into matter, is traced to their action.

Matter becomes mistress of what is manifested through it: It corrupts and destroys the incomer, it substitutes its own opposite character and kind, not in the sense of opposing, for example, concrete cold to concrete warmth, but by setting its own formlessness against the form of heat, shapelessness to shape, excess and defect to the duly ordered. Thus, in sum, what enters into matter ceases to belong to itself, comes to belong to matter, just as, in the nourishment of living beings, what is taken in does not remain as it came, but is turned into, say, dog's blood and all that goes to make a dog, becomes, in fact, any of the humours of any recipient.

No, if body is the cause of evil, then there is no escape; the cause of evil is matter.

Still, it will be urged, the incoming idea should have been able to conquer the matter.

The difficulty is that matter's master cannot remain pure itself except by avoidance of matter.

Besides, the constitution determines both the desires and their violence so that there are bodies in which the incoming idea cannot hold sway: There is a vicious constitution which chills and clogs the activity and inhibits choice; a contrary bodily habit produces frivolity, lack of balance. The same fact is indicated by our successive variations of mood: In times of stress, we are not the same either in desires or in ideas—as when we are at peace, and we differ again with every several object that brings us satisfaction.

To resume: The measureless is evil primarily; whatever, either by resemblance or participation, exists in the state of unmeasure, is evil secondarily, by force of its dealing with the primal—primarily, the darkness; secondarily, the darkened. Now, vice, being an ignorance and a lack of measure in the soul, is secondarily evil, not the essential evil, just as virtue is not the primal good but is likeness to the good, or participation in it.


But what approach have we to the knowing of good and evil?

And first of the evil of soul: Virtue, we may know by the intellectual-principle and by means of the philosophic habit; but vice?

A a ruler marks off straight from crooked, so vice is known by its divergence from the line of virtue.

But are we able to affirm vice by any vision we can have of it, or is there some other way of knowing it?

Utter viciousness, certainly not by any vision, for it is utterly outside of bound and measure; this thing which is nowhere can be seized only by abstraction; but any degree of evil falling short of the absolute is knowable by the extent of that falling short.

We see partial wrong; from what is before us we divine that which is lacking to the entire form [or kind] thus indicated; we see that the completed kind would be the indeterminate; by this process we are able to identify and affirm evil. In the same way when we observe what we feel to be an ugly appearance in matter—left there because the reason-principle has not become so completely the master as to cover over the unseemliness—we recognise ugliness by the falling- short from ideal-form.

But how can we identify what has never had any touch of form?

We utterly eliminate every kind of form; and the object in which there is none whatever we call matter: If we are to see matter we must so completely abolish form that we take shapelessness into our very selves.

In fact it is another intellectual-principle, not the true, this which ventures a vision so uncongenial.

To see darkness the eye withdraws from the light; it is striving to cease from seeing, therefore it abandons the light which would make the darkness invisible; away from the light its power is rather that of not-seeing than of seeing and this not- seeing is its nearest approach to seeing darkness. So the intellectual-principle, in order to see its contrary [matter], must leave its own light locked up within itself, and as it were go forth from itself into an outside realm, it must ignore its native brightness and submit itself to the very contradition of its being.


But if matter is devoid of quality how can it be evil?

It is described as being devoid of quality in the sense only that it does not essentially possess any of the qualities which it admits and which enter into it as into a substratum. No one says that it has no nature; and if it has any nature at all, why may not that nature be evil though not in the sense of quality?

Quality qualifies something not itself: It is therefore an accidental; it resides in some other object. Matter does not exist in some other object but is the substratum in which the accidental resides. Matter, then, is said to be devoid of Quality in that it does not in itself possess this thing which is by nature an accidental. If, moreover, Quality itself be devoid of Quality, how can matter, which is the unqualified, be said to have it?

Thus, it is quite correct to say at once that matter is without Quality and that it is evil: It is evil not in the sense of having Quality but, precisely, in not having it; give it Quality and in its very evil it would almost be a form, whereas in truth it is a kind contrary to form.

"But," it may be said, "the kind opposed to all form is privation or negation, and this necessarily refers to something other than itself, it is no substantial-existence: Therefore if evil is privation or negation it must be lodged in some negation of form: There will be no self-existent evil."

This objection may be answered by applying the principle to the case of evil in the soul; the evil, the vice, will be a negation and not anything having a separate existence; we come to the doctrine which denies matter or, admitting it, denies its evil; we need not seek elsewhere; we may at once place evil in the soul, recognising it as the mere absence of good. But if the negation is the negation of something that ought to become present, if it is a denial of the good by the soul, then the soul produces vice within itself by the operation of its own nature, and is devoid of good and, therefore, soul though it be, devoid of life: The soul, if it has no life, is soulless; the soul is no soul.

No; the soul has life by its own nature and therefore does not, of its own nature, contain this negation of the good: It has much good in it; it carries a happy trace of the intellectual- principle and is not essentially evil: Neither is it primally evil nor is that primal evil present in it even as an accidental, for the soul is not wholly apart from the good.

Perhaps vice and evil as in the soul should be described not as an entire, but as a partial, negation of good.

But if this were so, part of the soul must possess the good, part be without it; the soul will have a mingled nature and the evil within it will not be unblended: We have not yet lighted on the primal, unmingled evil. The soul would possess the good as its essence, the evil as an accidental.

Perhaps evil is merely an impediment to the soul like something affecting the eye and so hindering sight.

But such an evil in the eyes is no more than an occasion of evil, the absolute evil is something quite different. If then vice is an impediment to the soul, vice is an occasion of evil but not evil- absolute. Virtue is not the absolute good, but a co-operator with it; and if virtue is not the absolute good neither is vice the absolute evil. Virtue is not the absolute beauty or the absolute good; neither, therefore, is vice the essential ugliness or the essential evil.

We teach that virtue is not the absolute good and beauty, because we know that these are earlier than virtue and transcend it, and that it is good and beautiful by some participation in them. Now as, going upward from virtue, we come to the beautiful and to the good, so, going downward from vice, we reach essential evil: From vice as the starting-point we come to vision of evil, as far as such vision is possible, and we become evil to the extent of our participation in it. We are become dwellers in the place of unlikeness, where, fallen from all our resemblance to the divine, we lie in gloom and mud: For if the soul abandons itself unreservedly to the extreme of viciousness, it is no longer a vicious soul merely, for mere vice is still human, still carries some trace of good: It has taken to itself another nature, the evil, and as far as soul can die it is dead. And the death of soul is twofold: While still sunk in body to lie down in matter and drench itself with it; when it has left the body, to lie in the other world until, somehow, it stirs again and lifts its sight from the mud: And this is our "going down to hades and slumbering there."


It may be suggested that vice is feebleness in the soul.

We shall be reminded that the vicious soul is unstable, swept along from every ill to every other, quickly stirred by appetites, headlong to anger, as hasty to compromises, yielding at once to obscure imaginations, as weak, in fact, as the weakest thing made by man or nature, blown about by every breeze, burned away by every heat.

Still the question must be faced what constitutes this weakness in the soul, whence it comes.

For weakness in the body is not like that in the soul: The word weakness, which covers the incapacity for work and the lack of resistance in the body, is applied to the soul merely by analogy—unless, indeed, in the one case as in the other, the cause of the weakness is matter.

But we must go more thoroughly into the source of this weakness, as we call it, in the soul, which is certainly not made weak as the result of any density or rarity, or by any thickening or thinning or anything like a disease, like a fever.

Now this weakness must be seated either in souls utterly disengaged or in souls bound to matter or in both.

It cannot exist in those apart from matter, for all these are pure and, as we read, winged and perfect and unimpeded in their task: There remains only that the weakness be in the fallen souls, neither cleansed nor clean; and in them the weakness will be, not in any privation but in some hostile presence, like that of phlegm or bile in the organs of the body.

If we form an acute and accurate notion of the cause of the fall we shall understand the weakness that comes by it.

Matter exists; soul exists; and they occupy, so to speak, one place. There is not one place for matter and another for soul- matter, for instance, kept to earth, soul in the air: The soul's "separate place" is simply its not being in matter; that is, its not being united with it; that is that there be no compound unit consisting of soul and matter; that is that soul be not moulded in matter as in a matrix; this is the soul's apartness.

But the faculties of the soul are many, and it has its beginning, its intermediate phases, its final fringe. Matter appears, importunes, raises disorders, seeks to force its way within; but all the ground is holy, nothing there without part in soul. Matter therefore submits, and takes light: But the source of its illumination it cannot attain to, for the soul cannot lift up this foreign thing close by, since the evil of it makes it invisible. On the contrary the illumination, the light streaming from the soul, is dulled, is weakened, as it mixes with matter which offers birth to the soul, providing the means by which it enters into generation, impossible to it if no recipient were at hand.

This is the fall of the soul, this entry into matter: Thence its weakness: Not all the faculties of its being retain free play, for matter hinders their manifestation; it encroaches on the soul's territory and, as it were, crushes the soul back; and it turns to evil all that it has stolen, until the soul finds strength to advance again.

Thus the cause, at once, of the weakness of soul and of all its evil is matter.

The evil of matter precedes the weakness, the vice; it is primal evil. Even though the soul itself submits to matter and engenders to it; if it becomes evil within itself by its commerce with matter, the cause is still the presence of matter: The soul would never have approached matter but that the presence of matter is the occasion of its earth-life.


If the existence of matter be denied, the necessity of this principle must be demonstrated from the treatises "On matter" where the question is copiously treated.

To deny evil a place among realities is necessarily to do away with the good as well, and even to deny the existence of anything desirable; it is to deny desire, avoidance and all intellectual act; for desire has good for its object, aversion looks to evil; all intellectual act, all wisdom, deals with good and bad, and is itself one of the things that are good.

There must then be the good—good unmixed—and the mingled good and bad, and the rather bad than good, this last ending with the utterly bad we have been seeking, just as that in which evil constitutes the lesser part tends, by that lessening, towards the good.

What, then, must evil be to the soul?

What soul could contain evil unless by contact with the lower kind? There could be no desire, no sorrow, no rage, no fear: Fear touches the compounded dreading its dissolution; pain and sorrow are the accompaniments of the dissolution; desires spring from something troubling the grouped being or are a provision against trouble threatened; all impression is the stroke of something unreasonable outside the soul, accepted only because the soul is not devoid of parts or phases; the soul takes up false notions through having gone outside of its own truth by ceasing to be purely itself.

One desire or appetite there is which does not fall under this condemnation; it is the aspiration towards the intellectual- principle: This demands only that the soul dwell alone enshrined within that place of its choice, never lapsing towards the lower.

Evil is not alone: By virtue of the nature of good, the power of good, it is not evil only: It appears, necessarily, bound around with bonds of beauty, like some captive bound in fetters of gold; and beneath these it is hidden so that, while it must exist, it may not be seen by the gods, and that men need not always have evil before their eyes, but that when it comes before them they may still be not destitute of images of the good and beautiful for their remembrance.

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Ninth tractate: The reasoned dismissal

"You will not dismiss your soul lest it go forth..." [taking something with it].

For wherever it go, it will be in some definite condition, and its going forth is to some new place. The soul will wait for the body to be completely severed from it; then it makes no departure; it simply finds itself free.

But how does the body come to be separated?

The separation takes place when nothing of soul remains bound up with it: The harmony within the body, by virtue of which the soul was retained, is broken and it can no longer hold its guest.

But when a man contrives the dissolution of the body, it is he that has used violence and torn himself away, not the body that has let the soul slip from it. And in loosing the bond he has not been without passion; there has been revolt or grief or anger, movements which it is unlawful to indulge.

But if a man feel himself to be losing his reason?

That is not likely in the sage, but if it should occur, it must be classed with the inevitable, to be welcome at the bidding of the fact though not for its own sake. To call on drugs to the release of the soul seems a strange way of assisting its purposes.

And if there be a period allotted to all by fate, to anticipate the hour could not be a happy act, unless, as we have indicated, under stern necessity.

If everyone is to hold in the other world a standing determined by the state in which he quitted this, there must be no withdrawal as long as there is any hope of progress.

Enneads of Plotinus, END MATTER

Enneads of Plotinus, LITERATURE  


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